Arjun has returned home to help his mother out with their family’s convenience store after his father’s unexpected death, but he finds himself in limbo. Arjun’s torn between his identities—British and Punjabi—and isn’t really sure where his life is going or what he wants out of it. As he begins to drift away from his fiance and the life he once led, Arjun begins exploring his own family origins and is surprised at what he discovers.
When it comes to books about Indians, they are often sad. Heartbreaking. Gutwrenching. Difficult. They’re often stories about struggling and about getting nowhere, about being up against a wall. It’s part of the reason I read less South Asian fiction than I used to; more often than not, it’s just so sad. It’s also why I inhale most South Asian fiction that isn’t about this type of tragedy, because I want to read all kinds of stories about South Asians, not just about The Struggle. And that’s why I loved Marriage Material so much.
I can’t count the number of times Marriage Material made me laugh out loud. Sanghera has a sharp wit, and he’s not afraid to turn his incisive eye towards Punjabi culture. But more than that, he writes beautifully and with great insight on what it is to be a South Asian man living in Britain; what it is to be subjected to stereotypes, to be a brown man in a sea of white faces.
“He could have been anyone. Or no one. That’s the thing, if you’re Asian and happen to run a shop, you are anyone. Or no one. There are few more stereotypical things you can do as an Asian man, few more profound ways of wiping out your character and individuality, short of becoming a doctor, that is. Or fixing computers for a living. Or writing a book about arranged marriages.”
Marriage Material is written primarily in two different time periods. Arjun is the primary narrator, but there’s also a secondary narrator from the past, and the novel jumps back and forth between them. At first, it’s difficult to see how these stories are connected. On the surface, it’s clear, but what is the point of telling the secondary story? But as Sangham fleshes the narrative out, and does an incredible job bringing these characters and the story to life, the reader sees all the disparate threads coming together beautifully to tell a moving tale that is, in so many ways, so refreshingly ordinary.
If you’re looking for a funny, smart, sharp story about one young man trying to figure out where he belongs in a world that doesn’t understand or cater to him, Marriage Material should absolutely be on your list. I was completely taken in by this novel, and I’m only sorry that it’s over and I’ll have to wait to read Sanghera’s next book.