Brimming “with the ebullient Bhagwati’s fierce humanism, seething humor, and change-maker righteousness,” (Shelf Awareness) a raw, unflinching memoir by a former US Marine Captain chronicling her journey from dutiful daughter of immigrants to radical activist fighting for historic policy reform.
After a lifetime of buckling to the demands of her strict Indian parents, Anuradha Bhagwati abandons grad school in the Ivy League to join the Marines—the fiercest, most violent, most masculine branch of the military—determined to prove herself there in ways she couldn’t before.
Yet once training begins, Anuradha’s GI Jane fantasy is punctured. As a bisexual woman of color in the military, she faces underestimation at every stage, confronting misogyny, racism, sexual violence, and astonishing injustice perpetrated by those in power. Pushing herself beyond her limits, she also wrestles with what drove her to pursue such punishment in the first place.
Once her service concludes in 2004, Anuradha courageously vows to take to task the very leaders and traditions that cast such a dark cloud over her time in the Marines. Her efforts result in historic change, including the lifting of the ban on women from pursuing combat roles in the military.
“Bhagwati’s fight is both incensing and inspiring” (Booklist) in this tale of heroic resilience and grapples with the timely question of what, exactly, America stands for, showing how one woman learned to believe in herself in spite of everything.
First-time author Bhagwati pulls no punches with this uncompromising memoir chronicling her childhood as an obedient daughter of Indian immigrants, her time as a U.S. Marine Corps officer, and her work as a anti-sexual-abuse activist. After her graduation from Yale in 1998, Bhagwati wanting a more unconventional challenge enlisted in the Marine officer training school. As a female, Bhagwati was hazed more than men, yet she determinedly pushed herself to the physical and emotional limit, realizing much later that dealing with nearly constant sexual harassment had scarred her emotionally; after five years she decided to leave the Marines, and was honorably discharged in 2004. Postservice, Bhagwati was determined to take on the misogyny in the armed forces and hold the military to task for the sexual assault of females in the service; in 2007, she founded the Service Women's Action Network, which advocated for equal rights within the military and for allowing women in combat. Bhagwati, as she passionately explains, took her battles all the way to Congress, encountering politicians she believed to be sincere (including U.S. senator Kirsten Gillibrand) and those who, in her view, had their own agenda, such as California representative Jackie Speier. Bhagwati's candor and razor-sharp writing are in full evidence throughout her gritty and well-paced memoir. \nCorrection: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated Jackie Speier was the head of an organization she wanted to merge with the author's.