Muslim South Asia is widely characterized as a culture that idealizes female anonymity: women's bodies are veiled and their voices silenced. Challenging these perceptions, Siobhan Lambert-Hurley highlights an elusive strand of autobiographical writing dating back several centuries that offers a new lens through which to study notions of selfhood. In Elusive Lives, she locates the voices of Muslim women who rejected taboos against women speaking out, by telling their life stories in written autobiography. To chart patterns across time and space, materials dated from the sixteenth century to the present are drawn from across South Asia – including present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Lambert-Hurley uses many rare autobiographical texts in a wide array of languages, including Urdu, English, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Malayalam to elaborate a theoretical model for gender, autobiography, and the self beyond the usual Euro-American frame. In doing so, she works toward a new, globalized history of the field. Ultimately, Elusive Lives points to the sheer diversity of Muslim women's lives and life stories, offering a unique window into a history of the everyday against a backdrop of imperialism, reformism, nationalism and feminism.
About the author
Siobhan Lambert-Hurley is Reader in International History in the Department of History at the University of Sheffield.
"Journeying into the autobiographies of South Asian Muslim women, Lambert-Hurley does more than 'unveil' forgotten, sometimes secluded, lives. Rich in personal reflection and historical nuance. This is a wonderfully sensitive account of the gendered self and the subtle interleaving of individual identity and collective presence. Elusive Lives is a remarkable, original, agenda-setting book."
—David Arnold, University of Warwick
"Elusive Lives lucidly brings to life a panoramic range of autobiographical writings and the South Asian women who have penned them, never losing sight of the momentous and the eloquent in the everyday. This compelling study treats us to the detective work of excavating these texts, while keeping central the ongoing question of what 'autobiography' is. This beautifully written book is a pleasure to read. The author's passion and care for the works she wants us to hear are anything but elusive."
—Marilyn Booth, University of Oxford
"Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia is a extremely readable, brilliantly structured and well researched scholarly contribution written with great commitment, and of great importance to all who study autobiography, especially women's autobiography, in South Asia."
—Maria Puri, Cracow Indological Studies
"Elusive Lives is an excellent, wonderfully written, and spectacularly researched trendsetting book. Lambert-Hurley has produced a thought-provoking, historically important, and genuinely interesting work that will stand as a firm foundation for future work."––Jack A. W. Bowman, H-Socialisms
"Siobhan Lambert-Hurley's Elusive Lives: Gender, Autobiography, and the Self in Muslim South Asia is a deeply researched, sophisticated, and beautifully written study of South Asian Muslim women's autobiographical life writing from the earliest known examples to the late twentieth century. Lambert-Hurley brings rich perspective to her study."
—Barbara Metcalf, Pacific Affairs