Title: Madras on Rainy Days
Author: Samina Ali
Release Date: January 15, 2004
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Layla, a young Muslim-American woman, has returned to her family’s home in Hyderabad, India for an arranged marriage. Though she has agreed to the marriage, she has a secret – she lost her virginity before leaving the United States and became pregnant. Though she terminated the pregnancy, she is still suffering from its aftereffects while trying to hide her condition from those around her.
Madras on Rainy Days was an incredibly contemplative book about life for a young Muslim woman living in modern-day India. Though Layla has spent much of her life in the United States, she has spent an equal time in India and thus is torn between two worlds. She is denied many of the freedoms of a young American woman by her parents, who fear that, given the chance, she will act out and do things unbecoming to a Muslim woman. However, Layla finds a way to do the one thing they fear most – to lose her virginity to an American man.
As Layla contemplates her situation, she goes through the motions preparing for her marriage. In this way, it’s a very quiet novel. What will happen if her secret is discovered? Will her husband reject her? While Layla is dreading her marriage, at the same time, it’s what she wants.
This novel also deals with many issues facing India and the Muslim community today. Cultural and religious violence is an ever present threat, hovering just behind the story, threatening to make its presence known at any time. Divorce in the Muslim community and what it means for a man and a woman going through it, is also discussed. Of course, through Layla’s situation, the purity of a young woman going into marriage for Muslims is also an important topic. It’s difficult to discuss these issues in a review without revealing the twists and turns the story takes, so I’ll just leave it at that. Ali does not shy away from difficult topics, but the book never becomes hard to read or heavy.
Looking through online reviews, I was surprised to find middling to negative reviews of this book, which I found eye opening and very interesting. After reading their content, I have to disagree with them. The jist of these reviews said that Ali was playing on cultural stereotypes and didn’t know what she was talking about with Madras on Rainy Days. To a certain extent, that’s probably true – Layla’s story is a dramatic one, and there are definitely hills and valleys on her journey. However, I don’t believe that means this story is inaccurate or isn’t worth reading. It’s worth keeping in mind for this novel, or for any multicultural book, that you can’t make generalizations from one story. A book like this isn’t meant to make people think that all Muslim people in India act like this. It’s meant to tell a story and open people’s eyes to another possibility, and I think it does that incredibly well.
I thought Madras on Rainy Days was an excellent read, easier than a lot of the cultural literary fiction out there. Ali crafts a sympathetic main character who makes mistakes along the way, but you can’t help but feel for the situations she finds herself in. I’m sad that this is Samina Ali’s only book, as I’d love to read more of her work.