Saturday, 1 September 2012

For Matrimonial Purposes

Author: Kavita Daswani
Genre: Modern Fiction
Type: Hardcover
First Published: June 2004
First Line: "The normal religious marriage was, and still is, arranged by the parents of the couple, after much consultation, and the study of omens, horoscopes and auspicious physical characteristics."

Synopsis: Anju is a 33 year old young woman who has been raised in a traditional Indian family in Bombay.  Unlike all of her girlfriends and female cousins, Anju isn't eager to settle down.  Unfortunately Anju's mother (and every other female she knows) isn't on the same page as Anju and insist on constantly finding suitable mates for her.

Anju dreams of moving to the US and having a life and career of her own but also feels compelled to make her parents happy and marry a 'good boy' and settle down. Stuck between two cultures Anju tries to navigate through Indian customs and her desire to be an independent woman.

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that I borrowed this book from the library because I had inadvertently bought the first book by this author (second hand) and hate it when I come into a series in the middle. 

Lately I have been enjoying reading books based in India.  After reading "Secret Daughter" by Somaya Shilpa Gowda last year (a truly wonderful read!) I've had a soft spot for books focusing on the rich culture of India.  Unfortunately, this book paled in comparison to Gowda's book.  In a word, this book is fluff.  Light and not a lot of substance.  

After reading this book I think that the author was going for a Chick Lit/cultural contrast read.  Unfortunately the storyline was very thin and didn't seem to go anywhere.  We get caught in a continuous loop of Anju's family wanting her to get married, Anju going through the motions of dating men her parents approve of, her not liking the men then feeling disappointed and sad that she cannot live up to her parents' expectations.  Her parents begin to nag her again about finding a husband and the whole loop continues on ad nauseum.  After one or two of these dates I was ready to move on or at least see Anju learn something about herself.  Sadly, this didn't happen and I started to lose interest in Anju's plight.

I think that something else that didn't help my love for this book was that I didn't care for Anju as a main character.  She was confusing and contradictory.  On the one hand she's the traditionally obedient Indian daughter who desperately wants to make her parents happy (or, more accurately, to stop them from being ashamed of her marital status) by marrying a 'good Indian boy'.  Then,  in the next breath, she becomes this fashionista who seems very shallow, fickle and pretentious.  It's this back and forth that continued throughout the novel that really started to wear on me. We don't see a lot of internal struggle within Anju or any growth towards the end of the book. Anju is just stagnant.  No one likes a stagnant main character. 

I think that if I had seen Anju struggle more as she entered into North American society I could have gotten a better feel for who Anju was and what she was feeling.  The fact that Anju didn't have many conflicts with her new and very different life in NYC was surprising since I thought that the whole point of her moving to the US was to have a 'fish out of water' experience with Anju struggling to balance her family's expectations and Anju's desires for her own life.  For some reason, Anju seemed to jump right into the high paced world of New York City and quickly gets a job involving photo shoots with famous people in high fashion clothing.  Um, really?  This sheltered young woman with a meagre education moves to New York City and easily gets a job in fashion with no experience.  Ummm, no.  I'd have to suspend reality in order to believe that that could happen and Anju was interesting enough for me to overlook this huge issue.

I suppose along with the 'fish out of water' issue I was also expecting Anju to date a bit and find out how this new, independent Anju can find a balance with the more traditional Indian Anju.  But she seemed to lose her culture as soon as her foot hit American soil which I found very disappointing.  And, with the exception of one very small encounter with an American man, really didn't seem to have any major relationship with anyone.  Isn't that what this book is supposed to be about? 

Overall, this book wasn't nearly as interesting or entertaining as I was hoping.  The characters came off as clich├ęd and one dimensional and I honestly don't think it does Indian culture the justice and respect that it deserves.  With the hasty ending I'd suggest giving this book a pass but highly recommend picking up "The Secret Daughter" (Gowda) if you'd love to learn about Indian culture and have a story that you can lose yourself in.

My Rating: 2/5 stars

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