Book Review: Marriage Material – Sathnam Sanghera

marriage materialTitle: Marriage Material
Author: Sathnam Sanghera
ISBN: 9781609453077
Pages: 336
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher

Summary

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.

Review

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.

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Book Review: The Bollywood Bride – Sonali Dev

bollywood-brideTitle: The Bollywood Bride
Author: Sonali Dev
ISBN: 9781617730153
Pages: 352
Release Date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Kensington
Genre: Romance, Cultural (South Asian)
Source: Publisher

Summary

Ria Parker’s nickname in Bollywood is the Ice Princess—she’s cultivated her reputation as an untouchable, emotionless actress very carefully, as she doesn’t want to let anyone see what’s underneath the surface. The truth is, she’s never forgotten the boy she left behind, Vikram, despite her efforts to move forward. But when Ria’s forced to return home for a family wedding, will all her secrets be revealed as she has to face Vikram again?

Review

I loved Sonali Dev’s debut romance novel A Bollywood Affair, and it’s been with eager anticipation that I’ve been awaiting The Bollywood Bride. Romance isn’t a genre I read often, but I’ve been expanding my reading horizons more and more, and I’m a sucker for a good South Asian story. Dev did not disappoint with her second novel, making me appreciate her keen writing style and excellent characterization.

Ria is a great character in The Bollywood Bride. She seems like she has everything: wealth, fame, respect. But it doesn’t take long for the cracks to begin showing. She’s an actress everyone loves to hate, and her emotional health is questionable. She’s made a lot of sacrifices to get where she is, and not all of them were willing sacrifices on her part. Dev crafts a very deep character with Ria, and it’s interesting to watch her peel back the layers and become exposed and raw.

The reader knows that Ria left Vikram behind at the beginning of The Bollywood Bride, but the circumstances surrounding that, and indeed Vikram himself, are a mystery at the beginning of the novel. Dev keeps her book moving at a quick pace, and the reader is hooked, hoping to uncover what happened and that Ria finds the happy ending she so desperately needs. This is a novel that’s easily read in one sitting; in fact, I challenge you to not do so, to slow down and savor it. It’s a difficult thing because the novel pulls you in so completely.

I am really enjoying the small surge in inclusive genre fiction; too often the only choice for any sort of South Asian reading is literary fiction, which is usually on sad, heavy subjects. I’m a big fan of Sonali Dev’s and love her romance novels; I already can’t wait to read her next book.

Other books by Sonali Dev:

A Bollywood Affair

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Book Review: Written in the Stars – Aisha Saeed

written-in-the-starsTitle: Written in the Stars
Author: Aisha Saeed
ISBN: 9780399171703
Pages: 304
Release Date:
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Genre: Teen/YA, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Naila is a 17-year-old Pakistani American girl, living a life that may not be normal to outside eyes, but it’s normal to her. Her strict Muslim parents believe they know what’s best for her, not allowing her to socialize or date, but Naila has a secret–a boyfriend named Saif, who’s perfect for her. But when Naila’s parents find out about Saif, her life changes drastically, and Naila realizes just how powerless she is.

Review:

Aisha Saeed’s Written in the Stars is a novel I’ve been waiting on for a long time. Aisha and I have been Twitter friends since the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and hers is one of the novels I’ve most been looking forward to for 2015. So that means there were some high expectations going in. I didn’t know anything about this novel except that the main character was a Pakistani Muslim American teenager who was a girl. That’s it. And oh, boy, I’m glad I didn’t know too much about the plot because I was completely hooked every second of the way, waiting to see what would happen next.

Let’s start with the main character, Naila. She’s smart, sweet, and tries to respect her parents’ wishes. She loves them and knows they want what’s best for her. She’s just not sure that, growing up in U.S., so different from where they were raised, they actually know what’s best for her. Naila doesn’t see anything wrong with dating a boy she’s serious about, but she also doesn’t want to go against her parents’ wishes. This turns Naila into a big ball of guilt, uncomfortable in her own skin, and unsure of who she is.

Things take a turn after Naila’s parents discover her secret relationship in Written in the Stars, and as you can imagine, it’s not a positive turn for Naila. There is so much packed into this book, so many twists and turns and emotional occurrences, but I don’t want to discuss specifics because of plot details. So instead, let me just say this: Saeed writes such an honest, moving main character. Anyone who grew up with strict parents, not just South Asians, will identify with Naila. Saeed speaks universal truths through the specifics of one character’s experience, and it’s incredibly emotional. It’s hard not to become wrapped up in Naila’s journey.

Written in the Stars deals with serious issues, but it’s also the story of one young woman trying to figure out where she belongs in the world. It deals heavily with the powerlessness of women, specifically in the Muslim world, but the underlying truths are broadly applicable. If you enjoy cultural stories, stories about strong women, or just emotional reads that will suck you in completely (if you’re like me, you love all three), then this is a book you shouldn’t miss.

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Book Review: Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy

don't let him know - sandip royTitle: Don’t Let Him Know
Author: Sandip Roy
ISBN: 9781620408988
Pages: 256
Release Date: January 20, 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

When Amit finds an old love letter written by a man in his parents’ home, he figures that his mother, Romola, must have had a boyfriend before she married his now-deceased father, Avinash. But what Romola doesn’t tell her son is that, in fact, the letter was actually written to Avinash. This novel, written in the form of connected short stories, takes the reader from India to the United States and back again, jumping through time to tell the story of this family.

Snapshot Review:

An amazing novel packed to the brim with realistic characters, Don’t Let Him Know tackles important issues and is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of members of one Indian family.

Full Review:

Don’t Let Him Know is a gorgeously written novel that travels through time around the globe to tell the story of the Mitra family. It begins with Amit, after his father’s death, finding an innocuous love letter, but Romola isn’t prepared for the memories it brings forth, for the remembrance of her own discovery of the damning letter. Romola was a new bride in the United States, a women who didn’t know her husband very well, and instead of the letters that she was so desperately awaiting from her own family, this letter shows up. Roy captures Romola’s devastation and her sense of betrayal so well; she is alone in this world, and the one person she thought she had, it turns out she doesn’t even know. It’s gorgeously done and wraps the reader in the novel emotionally.

From there, Don’t Let Him Know starts jumping through time to flesh out the stories of the Mitra family, of Avinash, Romola, and Amit. Each chapter brings something new, and the novel isn’t told chronologically. It might sound confusing, but Roy does a great job keeping the narrative thread of the novel in place and coherent. The characters take turns narrating their own stories, so the reader comes to know and understand each of them intimately. They aren’t perfect; they’re flawed and human, but they’re real.

The novel also deals with many different issues facing modern India today. It’s clear from just the summary that Don’t Let Him Know that homosexuality plays an important role, one that recurs throughout the book. But Roy also tackles issue that are less hot-button but still very important, problems that anyone can identify with. For example, what happens to your elderly mother, who lives far away, after your father dies? What happens when something occurs that makes you wonder about the path not taken, about a former boyfriend who is no longer yours to mourn? Roy does an excellent job with his subject matter, and whether large or small, the issues he chooses to write about will become important to the reader.

If you’re looking for an excellent South Asian novel that’s fascinating, superbly written, and entertaining, but never dark or heavy, then Don’t Let Him Know is a great choice. It never gets weighed down with its own importance or seriousness. It’s unassuming, but don’t let that fool you: this is a powerful novel you won’t want to put down.

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Book Review: A Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

bad character cover

Title: A Bad Character Author: Deepti Kapoor ISBN: 9780385352741 Pages: 256 Release Date: January 20, 2015 Publisher: Knopf Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction (South Asian) Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: A young woman is attending college in Delhi, living with her aunt after her mother’s death. She falls in love with an older […]

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Book Review: Love in a Headscarf – Shelina Janmohamed

Title: Love in a Headscarf Author: Shelina Janmohamed ISBN:  9780807000809 Pages: 272 Release Date: October 12, 2010 Publisher: Beacon Press Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cultural Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Shelina Janmohamed was a smart, Oxford-educated young Muslim woman who decided to abide by her parents’ and community’s traditions when it came […]

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Book Review: Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary – Anita Anand

Sophia cover

Title: Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary Author: Anita Anand ISBN: 9781632860811 Pages: 432 Release Date: January 13, 2015 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography, Cultural (South Asian) Source: Publisher Rating: 5 out of 5 Summary: Sophia Duleep Singh was a princess, daughter of Maharajah Duleep Singh, the deposed leader of the Indian Sikh empire, but Sophia […]

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Audiobook Review: No Land’s Man – Aasif Mandvi

No Land's Man cover

Title: No Land’s Man Author: Aasif Mandvi ISBN: 9781452107912 Listening Time: 4 hours, 23 min / Pages: 240 Release Date: November 4, 2014 Publisher: Audible (audio) / Chronicle Books (print) Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Cultural (South Asia), Essays Source: Publisher (Audible review copy) Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Aasif Mandvi delves into his personal history in this […]

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