Pradhan attempts to write just such a novel and it is easy to see where she draws her inspiration from -- The Joy Luck Club and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. But it is fair to say these books were just inspirations and Pradhan thankfully tries to make the story her own or about the three set of mothers and daughters.
The story of the six women is told in first person and first half of the book draws the reader into their personal lives in a very reality-TV-like way. And even though they are from the same country, the cultural diversity of the three (Bengali, Maharashtrian and Punjabi) is well narrated and explained for the non-Indian reader. But then, like the average reality show, these stories too start to falter, stumble and fall apart at the seams; especially, that of Saroj and her daughter Preity and Uma and her daughter Rani. It is not hard to see why.
When you are attempting to voice six strong women and their mother-daughter bond, not to mention their past and present and future, it can become daunting not to mention challenging. Ms. Pradhan’s easy way out was to chop the stories just when they got interesting.
For example, suddenly out of nowhere we find out Saroj is having an extramarital affair with her old flame. Except for her husband’s less than satisfying performance in bed, we get no hint of why, when or how she started her affair.
We know everything about her daughter Preity’s first love affair and her desire to find closure in the face of an abruptly ended affair. But the built up is deflated just as suddenly with a hand delivered letter and a few tears.
Recipe for how plain vegeis are transformed into delicous side dishes
Uma’s estrangement from her father and her special bond with her daughter is poignant and touching. Her attempt to translate her mother’s diaries gives us a glimpse into the archaic customs and prejudices of Indian families but it is just that, a glimpse. I would have loved to read more translations of her mother’s diaries and how it helped her decipher her daughter’s asthma as just misaligned chakras.
Her daughter Rani, struggling with an artist’s block and a husband dealing with the loss of his start up, in a matter of few pages, has suddenly everything working out for the best for her.
Meenal Deshpande's chicken curry
But more than the choppy stories and abrupt endings, it was the pontification that bothered me the most. It was out of place to the point of being ridiculous and unbelievable at best. I mean, seriously, who launches into a discussion with first time guests over how women should be put in charge of Indo Pak diplomacy and how politicians are to blame for all the world’s problems (True) and regular citizens do not hate people from other countries. Or when Meenal lectures Kiran, a family physian, on the hazards of smoking!
May be Ms. Pradhan should have worried more about fleshing out the story and less about Indo Pak relations or statutory warnings.
That being said, the characters are totally relatable and the mother daughter father bond/tension spot on. The lament of Indian parents at the loss of culture, language and respect for elders is reminiscent of discussion I have at Indian parties in the US. The recipes are as authentic as can be. I loved the reminder “Under no circumstance use curry powder’.
Here’s my reminder, “Under no circumstance buy the book if you can rent.”
This book review is for our monthly book club – This book makes me cook, started by Simran. Other members who reviewed the book are Ann, Simran, Aqua and Aparna. If you would like to join out book club, drop a line to Simran and she will get back to you with details.
My version of Meenal's vermicelli kheerI made Meenal’s vermicelli kheer (porridge) with pistachios and golden raisins and delicately flavored with cardamom pods. However, this post has run long enough for the purpose of this blog so kheer recipe in the next post, promise.
Ann, don’t take any points off like the last time. It counts if I made and ate the kheer and post it a day later.