Friday, June 15, 2012

A Good Indian Wife by Anne Cherian

I must be a sucker for book cover photos of women in saris. It has just occurred to me that sari photos are the Indian equivalent of the “woman in heels carrying a shopping bag” graphics that grace the cover of American and British chick lit. Okay, so now I know.

Suneel, a Stanford-educated anesthesiologist returns home to India to visit his dying grandfather. Somehow he ends up agreeing to his grandfather’s fondest wish: an arranged marriage with a nice Indian girl, Leila. Before he knows it, he’s hitched and can’t get out of it. Together Neel (as he is called in the U.S.) and Leila return to San Francisco where Neel acts like a selfish jerk and Leila wanders dazed and confused through her new life.

This book had some good points: Leila, who was a teacher in India, is smart and tries to make the best of a bad situation. Her tentative attempts to form relationships with some of Neel’s coworker’s wives are endearing, as is her search for a meaningful way to pass the time while Neel cavorts with his white mistress. As you would expect, Neel eventually learns to value Leila, but for the reader this change comes too late. I just hated him so much by the end of the book that I couldn’t be happy for Leila that he was finally reforming his tomcat ways.

I was interested in the ways in which A Good Indian Wife echoes one of the standard plots long seen in traditional regency romances: The bluestocking spinster, considered “on the shelf” by her family, submits to an arranged marriage with a rake. Eventually her intelligence, quiet beauty, and inner strength help him see the errors of his ways and he renounces his promiscuity to swear undying love for his wife. Was this a conscious choice on the author’s part? How could it not be? I wonder why she did this?

(Book 19, 2012)


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