The Upstairs Wife is a wholesome narrative of Pakistan and life in Pakistan, more so of life in Karachi, via the eyes of a 3rd generation. It is a memoir of Pakistan’s unsettled history and a family’s polygamist marriage. The women’s stories of their uncertain future woven with the transparent selectivity of history of Pakistan from 1947. The Upstairs Wife gives context to the life of women behind the walls of a middle class Muslim home in one of Pakistan’s great cities, where men make the decisions and women accept the consequences.
The book is a tapestry of histories of the writer’s family, of her grandparents, Said and Suraya. Who migrated from Bombay, builds a life in Karachi, of her parents’ lives, of her own childhood. Moreover, of Aunt Amina who is given in marriage by a contract negotiated by her male relatives, who did not think to inquire about the possibility of her spouse acquiring a second wife. Her Husband Sohail marries against her wishes with another woman, and when Amina tries to return in protest, she is sent back to the husband who divides his time religiously between the upstairs and downstairs wives. Amina is forced to live a half-married, sequestered into the upstairs portion of the house and entitled to only half of her husband’s time and attention.
The book has a non-linear nature of the narrative, jumping around in time from snapshots of Pakistan’s history intertwined with family history in an episodic manner of approach which makes the book work more precious, it sets the reader in a roller-coaster jump from highlight to highlight to reminisce over the past. The book is the perfect and devastating blend of tender and brutal.