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THE VILLAGE BRIDE OF BEVERLY HILLS by Kavita Daswani. Putnam Publishing Group. Hardcover, 271 pages. $23.95
Kavita Daswani is at it again. The Village Bride of Beverly Hills is a fun romp into the morals and manners and occasionally the hazards of cross-cultural living. For those tired of epics and the careworn theme of arranged marriage, Daswani offers the South Asian version of chick lit, but with a good dose of substance.
When Priya, one of four daughters, marries, she moves to Beverly Hills and lives with her husband, Sanjay, and his family as is expected traditionally of the dutiful daughter-in-law. Interestingly, Daswani deftly builds up the tension that ensues when a bright, beautiful, and sensitive woman sublimates her own desires and sacrifices her own needs in deference to others. While the book is meant to be fun (and it is) and humorous (very much so, at times), the author has opened a window into one aspect of Indian culture that most Westerners find inscrutable. Refreshingly, Daswani takes a tack that many traditionalists would rather not acknowledge: that sometimes marriage, even when it’s arranged, doesn’t work.
Upon her arrival in Beverly Hills, the permissive, glitzy culture isn’t Priya’s only surprise. In addition to cooking the family meals and cleaning the house she is expected to procure a job. “No woman in my family has ever had a job,” she states matter-of-factly, and therein lies the conflict. It seems as though every prospective job is either not worthy of Priya or she is not worthy of it. When she lands a secretarial job at Hollywood Insider magazine, she is given an opportunity that will fulfill her dream of becoming a journalist, but will simultaneously force her into living a double life until, as everyone knows they will, the two worlds collide. Having matured before the readers’ eyes, Priya faces a very real conflict that Daswani presents in a very interesting way. Priya faces tough decisions and is, in every way, a thoughtful and fully drawn character. Marriage is a difficult enterprise, as she eventually finds out:
When a marriage really starts to unravel, it’s almost instantaneous. I’d seen people on the talk shows discuss the slow crumbling of sentiment, the eventual wearing away of the goodwill that is needed to sustain a union.
I’m not sure if that is always the case. I think for many couples, the end of a marriage can happen at the completion of a dinner party, or the start of a new morning, or in the middle of a silent car ride home.
The beauty of the book is the humor and sensitivity. For a change, the twist in the tale doesn’t hurt, either. Daswani should be applauded for blasting stereotypes, both Indian and American, and showing that marriage is a difficult enterprise no matter which side of the cultural divide you are on.
|Michelle Reale is an academic librarian and a fiction writer, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia.|