Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Review: A Good Indian Wife

Summary: A clash of hearts and cultures set against the divergent backdrops of rural India and downtown San Francisco.

Handsome anesthesiologist Neel prides himself on his decisiveness, both in and out of the operating room. So when he agrees to return to India to visit his ailing grand­father, he is sure he’ll be able to resist his family’s pleas that he marry a “good” Indian girl. With a girlfriend and a promising career back in San Francisco, the last thing Neel needs is an arranged marriage.

Leila is a thirty-year-old teacher in Neel’s family’s village who has watched too many prospective husbands come and go to think her newest suitor will be any different. She is well past prime marrying age; her family has no money for a dowry; and then there’s the matter of an old friendship with a Muslim boy named Janni.

Neel and Leila struggle to reconcile their own desires with the expectations of others in this riveting story of two people, two countries, and two ways of life that may be more compatible than they seem. -- WW Norton

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have received an ARC of A GOOD INDIAN WIFE by Anne Cherian. I love getting sneak previews of books; however, I have such a backlog of books that I actually ended up reading this book a few weeks after its hardcover release. I probably should have bumped it up in my TBR pile because I thoroughly enjoyed the novel.

It seems like novels about the Indian culture are extremely popular right now, and I find myself fascinated by them. In fact, my book club has read two Indian themed novels, THE NAMESAKE and THE HINDI-BINDI CLUB just within the past few years. I'm not exactly sure why my friends and I are all drawn to stories about Indians living in the United States, but I'm guessing that it has something to do with learning about other cultures. When I read a book (even a fictional book) about people from other countries, I am always extremely interested in finding out more about their customs and beliefs.

I certainly enjoyed reading A GOOD INDIAN WIFE; however, I have to say that it did take me a few chapters to really "get into" the story. I had a little difficulty getting past the thoughts and actions of Neel and Caroline. However once I got past my hang-ups, I couldn't put the book down! I had to keep reading to find out the fates of Leila and Neel. Both characters were thrown into a very difficult situation by agreeing to an arranged marriage, and I don't think either fully understood the consequences. I felt so much compassion towards Leila (and even a little towards Neel) -- I can't imagine marrying a stranger and then moving to a brand new country. As if that's not enough, her husband doesn't love her or even pay any attention to her.

This book really made me think about how difficult it would be to move to a new country and start a new life, especially when the culture is so dramatically different -- as in the case of moving from India to the United States. I moved around a lot as a child (all within the U.S.) and I remember how hard it was to make new friends and be accepted. I can't even begin to imagine the shock of moving to a new country with a different language, a new husband, different values and different customs. I also liked that this book made a point of how an Indian might not feel like they truly belong in the United States; but when they go back to visit India, they no longer fit in there either. It has to be such an awkward position to be in.

A GOOD INDIAN WIFE would make a terrific book club pick -- I'm pretty sure that my book club would enjoy discussing it. I would love to hear everyone's opinions on arranged marriages, family obligations, American vs. Indian customs and culture, etc. My only issue with picking this book right now is that I couldn't find any discussion questions. I would be willing to bet that the publisher is working on them and will have them available in the very near future! As soon as I find them, I will add a link on this post.


Jeane said...

It sounds like a good book.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

as usual, an excellent review. I'm starting to dread coming to your blog ... it means I'll have to add another title to my TBR list! LOL

Anonymous said...

Another one for my wish list!

I've also noticed the current popularity of Indian-culture-themed books. In the past few months I've read and commented on The Death of Vishnu (odd, but interesting) and Brick Lane (only half-good -- I didn't finish it). I think I'm drawn to them as well as books about situations in the Middle East for the same reason you are... to learn about new cultures.

shellshocked said...

I just finished reading the book a few minutes ago. I search the web to see if anyone else read it. I am African-American and want to read about other cultures. What is interesting is the similarities in relationships whether they are arranged or chosen. White/Black/Indian. There are a lot similarities with with intra-racism and colorism within the Black community to what is in the Indian culture. This is a good read and I couldn't put it down. But you have free yourself from an American way of looking at life to really enjoy the book.