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A Good Indian Wife by Anne Cherian

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A GOOD INDIAN WIFE by Anne Cherian

Immigrants bring their culture with them – and some may attempt to leave behind the parts they think they no longer need in the new world. Author Anne Cherian explores this dichotomy in her, very good, first novel A Good Indian Wife.

Suneel Sarath, a thirty-five year-old doctor, has become Neel now that he lives in San Francisco. Here he has left India behind and made a new life. His bright and airy condo, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, is modern and uncluttered. Neel is a bright young man and along with his Porsche he wants to take advantage of all that America has to offer. When he is ready he will marry – and his wife will be of his choosing, she will be an American blonde. As Anne Cherian says in an interview “he has turned his back on his people and his culture.”

Well. Sorry Neel. Neel is tricked into returning to India, believing his beloved grandfather is dying. Grandfather does want to see Neel – but the purpose is to choose him a bride and get him married!

Indian women may appear to be subservient – and some may be – but the bride in this book has watched her mother and her aunties and she knows the old Indian joke, that along with the rings on their fingers, “the household key ring was tucked into her sari at the waist, and another ring was attached to Father’s nose”. The bride is Leila; a little too old for the marriage market at the age of thirty but Neel’s family thinks she is the perfect match for Neel.

Leila is well educated, two degrees, and has been teaching school for several years. She was never been with a man – never had a kiss. She has lived within the protective family compound. It seems hard to believe that she is so naive for one so well educated, but she is.  

With dispatch Neel and Leila are married and back in San Francisco in Neel’s condo. Who is the most shocked? Neel, Leila? Or, Neel’s blonde American girlfriend, Caroline?

We spend those first months of the marriage with Neel and Leila and their friends, Indian and American. Leila must adjust, not only to her new husband, but also to her role of unwanted wife, and new immigrant. For a girl from a small town who has lived a very sheltered life, San Francisco is a wonderland where she finds a new freedom as a woman. Leila misses her family but she very quickly knows that regardless of the success – or not – of the marriage she will stay in San Francisco. Neel desperately regrets that he allowed himself to be trapped by his family into this marriage.

I am not going to spoil the suspense of this novel. Anne Cherian says she “wanted to put Neel and Leila on the page and see what they would do” and you will have the pleasure yourself of reading about how these engaging characters sort out their situation.  

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