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Book Review of On Borrowed Wings: A Novel

Chandra Prasad’s On Borrowed Wings exposes the ingrained
sexism of higher education via protagonist Adele Pietra,
who, in 1940, must disguise herself as her dead brother
to receive an education at Yale. The premise of the book
is interesting, as is the implied commentary that gendered
roles are not a genetic reality, but learned systems of
behavior. Class distinctions are also smartly refuted when
working-class Adele excels in her studies, and then “makes
good” by sharing her knowledge with disadvantaged families
of New Haven.

Although the social messages of On Borrowed Wings
reverberate, the downfall of the novel lies in the
one-dimensional portrayal of its secondary characters.
Exactly how many stories about academia involve an utterly
incompetent teacher or administrator who is one-upped by
an underling with a heart of gold? In this case Adele’s
work study is conducted under the “tutelage” of evil
Professor Spang from the Department of Social Demography
and Intelligence. Spang spouts banalities such as the following:
“It used to be that we could keep them at bay…but they’re
encroaching…Some have even managed to steal our women…Pity all
the mixed blood brats they’ve borne. And look what they’ve done
with our money” (124). Yes, we detest ignorant bigots in
positions of power. However, such hackneyed character
portrayals tend to incite more boredom than loathing.

Moreover, the first-person narration is often clumsy and
self-conscious, replete with overwritten lines such as,
“I walked a little faster, then broke into a run, a limber,
startled run, my feet barely skimming the sandy path” (38).

To sum up, read this novel for its interesting story
and superior social commentary, but be prepared to
overlook simplistic characterizations and awkward syntax.
Grade: B-

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