Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2013

ISBN: 978-4516-9565-6

ISBN: 978-4516-9569-4 (E-book)

If I had to sum up this new novel by the prolific Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, I would call it a sweet love story in which the best and worst qualities of human beings are brought out by friction that has been caused by cultural contact and economic change in present-day India. The family drama is richly crosshatched with anthropological details, a gradual uncovering of a traditional heritage on the bride Korobi’s side, and the realism of 21st century commerce on the groom Rajat’s side. Neither is extreme, and the question seems to be how much each family can learn, grow, appreciate, and share of the other’s world view.

Often, the language lifts the story far above a popular romance. Most of the characters are likable, to the point of my wanting there to be more of them, perhaps in a three-volume family saga. Korobi’s grandmother, Sarojini, is my favorite. Living in a dilapidated historical house with its own temple, she holds the key to the past and yet knows the futility of trying to stop change. Korobi is an excellent modern heroine with enough devotion and sense of responsibility to bridge past and future. In her there also is a touch of the supernatural, the believable, blurry boundaries between daydreams and night dreams. By contrast, in her fiancé Rajat we have stark reality. His is a coming-of-age story. He seems at times a weak and corruptible young man. Before he seems worthy of Korobi he must prove himself to his parents by absolving the religious conflict among their workers. (In 2001, Hindu pilgrims were killed in a train fire and more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in subsequent riots). There is other danger coming from breaking personal loyalties. At the climax, two key characters are bent on revenge.

Add to all this a political event, September 11, 2001, which impacts every person with brown skin who wishes to fly into the United States. Korobi’s search for her real father begins a year later, and reaches back in time to the 1970s, when “mixed marriage” suggested something quite different.

It is the timeless question of “mixed marriage” that will intrigue someone my age (over 65), as we learned of “other world religions” in college textbooks. A Chicago Tribune reviewer wrote that this author “writes about India in a way that makes the rest of the world disappear around you." Although she has said that much of the story is based on her own experience, I still must disagree. She connects India to U.S. citizens in an irreversible way, as part of our experience. She also leaves me wanting more knowledge of India to cover my confusion regarding not just politics, but such details as names of endearment, which are so important in defining Indian relationships of affection and intimacy. I wished that I had prepared myself better for her novel; I feel chastised for my narrowness and forewarned to be better armed net time.

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