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Cherian's engaging novel melds the diverse cultures of two countries, San Francisco anesthesiologist Suneel Sarath unable to bridge his bifurcated life, successful California physician and dutiful son of Indian parents who expect him to embrace family tradition and choose an Indian wife. Neel, as he prefers to be called in his modern incarnation, returns to the family home in rural India when he learns his grandfather is gravely ill. Soon after his arrival, Neel is enmeshed with his family's machinations, a well-planned effort to match him with an appropriate bride. With no intention of cooperating beyond the most cursory level of social contact, Neel's calculated appeasement backfires; he finds himself wed to thirty-year-old Leila, a teacher of English literature who long ago reconciled herself to spinsterhood. Convinced her dream of marriage and family will never come true, Leila is amazed when the impossible happens, wed to a handsome, if emotionally distant man.

Of course nothing is ever as simple as it appears. While Leila adapts to the idea of the exciting adventures awaiting her in America, Neel has other problems; he has a tangled past, unfinished business only made more complicated by his marriage. There is a long-term girlfriend waiting in San Francisco, Neel's life far removed from the Indian childhood he left behind. Success has allowed unexpected freedoms on the West Coast, including a blonde beauty far from the conventional standards of his family's expectations. Meanwhile, Leila has no idea why her romantic dreams fail to reach fruition, Neel withdrawn and uncommunicative, juggling the real-time problems of married life with a demanding girlfriend who has long harbored her own fantasies of the future. The spirited and independent Leila, confused by her husband's intractability, tries to accommodate Neel's temperament, plagued with self-doubts and vague suspicions.

The author has crafted an elegant, poignant novel that is a joy to read, capturing the characters' intricacies, hopes and disappointments. Both women in Neel's life delude themselves, making excuses for behavior they don't understand. Neel temporizes, caught between two worlds, the familiarity of his Indian heritage at odds with modern Western culture, rebelling at the repression of generations. The very American girlfriend is sadly predictable, tolerating Neel's wife until she becomes an unacceptable threat, Leila full of surprises, discovering her voice in this unfamiliar place where new friends think her beautiful and interesting. The usual problems of early marriage weigh upon this couple, exacerbated by pride and misunderstanding. In a fascinating mating dance that draws the pair together, while at the same time pushing them apart, love planted in foreign soil blooms in the city by the bay. Luan Gaines/ 2008.
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on May 9, 2008
Anne Cherian manages to write successfully in multiple 'tongues' -- from those of her protagonists, Leila and Neel, whose arranged marriage leaves them facing a communication gulf is as wide as the distance between 1980's San Francisco and a village in India. The result is very good, particularly for a first novel.

I loved "being" in India and, though some readers might trip over Cherian's use of foreign language, I found it lovely to deduce the meanings (more than once, I found myself salivating over the detailed descriptions of Indian food). And I loved being in 1980's San Francisco (in fact, having lived there then, I found the rendering mightily evocative.)

The novel is indeed Jane-Austinish, particularly in the slowly-evolving opening and the "who's marrying whom?" mystery, but it takes off in the middle and is a real nail-biter all the way to the last page. If you like Austin but want a break from 19th-century England, this is quite a treat. The novel cries out for a sequel -- I long to see what happens as Leila becomes ever more self-confident and independent in her new country.
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on June 1, 2012
Anne Cherian has tried to portray a sensitive story of an unlikely couple with highly polarized personalities - on the one hand, the Indian born American educated Neel wants to be entirely American without fully understanding the cultural context he is thrown into and therefore is obsessed about marrying an American woman; and on the other hand a traditional southern Indian girl who has only trained to be a wife and knows of no other identify to aspire to. The story unravels a rather unlikely plot that brings them together, and even if one is forced to swallow it, one hopes for better things to follow.

The author clings to the extreme cliches about the two cultures she depicts - American and Indian. Although her ability to write from both perspectives is impressive, her lack of ability to go beyond the superficial routine cliches is not. MUST Neel be the extreme wanting to be all-American villager-Indian, MUST Liela (his imported wife) be the typical on-the-shelf-desperately-waiting-be-married woman, and MUST the American secretary (Caroline) that Neel is having an affair with be the gold-digger-wanting-to-marry-a-rich-doctor Midwestern from a red-neck family? There are too many, way too many, shades of cultures in both India and America, to look at this story as anything but simple minded. I kept reading this book because the author can write a reasonably flowing (albeit simplistic) prose, but mostly because I was hoping for a less typical ending.

I kept waiting for the story to take a turn where the all-but-deserted Liela takes charge of her life and flowers into an independent individual, leaving her so-called husband behind. But of course that does not happen, and the story unconvincingly leads to a deterministic ending living up to the cliches that this book is full of. I found it difficult to find any character in this book likeable or genuine except Neel's friend Sanjay and his wife Oona, who aren't driven entirely by tormented goals thrust upon them. Liela herself would be more likeable if she was depicted as a less typical woman dying to obtain a "married" title, dependent, and just waiting for her husband to come around. The story builds towards glimpses of that pluck in her character but never fully develops it as if it is entirely unimportant, as if the main objective is in fact that the husband comes around to his senses.

Looking forward to more liberal and open-minded books by immigrant authors revealing an exposure a bit more diverse than this.
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"A Good Indian Wife" is the debut novel of Anne Cherian, who was born and raised in Jamshedpur, India. She received graduate degrees in journalism and comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley, after graduating from Bombay and Bangalore Universities.

"A Good Indian Wife" is what Leila Krishnan yearns to be. She lives in rural India, and teaches English: although intelligent, well-raised, tall and lovely, her parents are comparatively poor and can offer no dowry with her, so she hasn't been able to marry. This has further disastrous economic effects upon her and her family. But her parents do love her, and she has loving relations with two younger sisters.

Dr. Suneel Sarath is handsome, tall and ambitious. He has an American education and veneer; a job as an anesthesiologist in a San Francisco hospital; a small condo overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge; part ownership of a small plane, and a very nice car. And Caroline, a tall, blond, long-legged, beautiful, ambitious American hospital secretary girlfriend. But no wife. And you can remember what Jane Austen, that world-renowned 18th-19th century British author, once said about well-to-do men needing wives? Well, so you can see where this is going, can't you? Neel (he's Americanized, and prefers to be called by that variant of his name) is tricked into another visit back to his Indian family, and before he knows what's hit, he's returning to the States with Leila as his bride.

There can be no doubt that the book is chick lit lite. Still, it's nicely written; quite informative on the subject of arranged marriages. The author tells us volumes about Indian weather, geography, flora and fauna, society and customs: she also does a good job of introducing us to San Francisco as a newcomer might see it. She furthermore gives us a sympathetic account of Leila's immigrant struggles to find her footing, alone. As to the gold-digging blond Caroline, well, what do you expect?
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on May 6, 2008
Cherian writes an unlikely modern-day fairy tale about two sympathetic and authentic characters caught up in a series of cultural expectations and compromises. The story is set in the contemporary global context, where the fluid flows of people, knowledge and cultures across borders create seemingly unlikely unions. The premise of the marriage is such that the reader feels like s/he is watching a fatal accident unfold in slow motion. The twists and turns that the novel takes, replete with cultural mis-steps and misunderstandings, make it a fun and compelling read.

It's a page turner, and I'd recommend it highly.
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on August 14, 2008
A Good Indian Wife: A Novel I bought this book on a recommendation from one of my patients. This book is rich in detail and you will feel as if you are watching a movie not reading a book. I had a really hard time putting it down. You can really feel the emotions of the characters! With twists and turns and real life emotions this is a book not to be missed!

I can't wait for her next book to come out!
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on November 25, 2012
I was skeptical when I read that this was about a good Indian wife who manages to win her husband back and the book just proved me right. I couldn't emphatise with any of the characters-I found Neel an arrogant jerk (who looks down upon his girlfriend because she is 'just' a secretary whereas he, a doctor - so racism is not OK but classism is OK?). Leila (who is reduced to tears because her husband owns 'just' an apartment and not a house and when one of her friends confides about her pregnancy, she faints due to what she claims as strong emotions of jealousy and sorrow) doesn't evoke much sympathy either. The story is ridiculous, Neel yielding to an arranged marriage wasn't very convincing. When I was looking forward to see how Leila faces the challenges that a new world poses to her , it turns out to be a cakewalk for her- his friends accept her wholeheartedly,( she impressing them by her graceful way of wearing sarees and by being a soft spoken Indian bride), her husband spoils her buying her clothes and taking her out to restaurants and parties, she wins him over by cooking, just being there and finally by falling pregnant. The book cold have ended with 'then they lived happily ever after' just after the episode where they get married. As a feminist, I found that this book gives false hope to countless Indian women living in rocky marriages that an Indian husband will always come back to his wife if she waits for him playing the role of a submissive good Indian wife. Besides, I was wondering that though Caroline and Leila were thrilled to have a rich doctor as their partner, what makes one virtuous and the other a whore was only a ceremony called marriage? The comments about virginity (Neil finds Leila more attractive when he realises that she is a virgin and is excited to learn about her ignorance about contraception) was disturbing to me, coming from a country that is plagued by a lack of sex education and obsessed with virginity.
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on September 1, 2012
I'm not sure why other reviewers called this a romance? Neel, born in India makes his way to the USA for college and ends up a successful anesthesiologist in San Fransico. He is tricked into going back to India because he is told his beloved grandfather is dying. His mother has other plans. A marriage. Arranged marriages are normal in India. Having worked with Indians myself, this story was very parallel to what they told me. Lelia, who only knows Indian tradition is excited she is finally getting a husband, especially one who lives in America. Sadly, he wants nothing to do with her. He marries her out of obligation, but tries everything in his power to make it not work, from hoping she can't get a Visa, to ignoring her completely and continuing his relationship with his blonde bimbo. Neel is not likable. An arrogant prick. This book is about Lelia learning who she is and growing despite her situation. This wasn't by any means great fiction, but I still enjoyed it. I needed something fresh to read and this definitely was an original, light read.
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on June 8, 2008
This is a very compelling, well crafted, and enjoyable book, which wryly examines the difference between what we think we want, and what we truly desire. The story also contrasts the dynamics of arranged marriages versus "love matches" and in the process finds similar potential pit-falls in both.

As we are drawn into the manifold relationships stretching out in all directions from one marriage, we are given a generous view of universal human strengths and frailties. Anne Cherian's tale provides a reminder that sometimes our most cherished self-images and long-held dreams can be chimerical when compared to that which truly provides a sense of comfort and ease. And, that it sometimes takes an independent nature and a bit of rebelliousness to find the wisdom in the conventional.
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on March 2, 2009
I absolutely love the cover page of the book. Its smashing. And the book...hmmm well I am not sure I can say I loved the book. I guess I will compromise and call it interesting. I know it really is a tacky word to describe anything..let alone a book. But I realized as I read through the book that it could have been so much better. I really do love Leila's character though. I pretty much understand her and her feelings and its very easy to relate to most of it. However I really can't say much about Neel's character though. I got through that he was confused, but that's absolutely no excuse to act like a jerk. I mean calling him a kid seemed too much of a disgrace. I agree with some of the interplay in the conversations among the secondary characters about how Leila was too good for Neel. Leila has so much going for... I love the way she handles herself throughout. Unfortunately I guess I could even understand her love for her husband. She really grows throughout the book without making a big ado about it. She creates a niche for herself in the world that is not hers. She is strong without having too be aggressive about it. All in all I think the title " A good Indian Wife" really doesn't do a lot of justice to her.

Among the secondary character, I guess Sanjay comes across a great guy who is comfortable in his skin and so much more easy going in his relationship with his "not-Indian" wife. It is easy to like him. Most characters in the book are present mostly to help the story along.

However my complain about the book was more about understanding the settings and timings of when the story was set. It was very unclear as to whether the story was really set in Mumbai or Chennai (as that's where the Iyengars are originally from). I never really understood what village she was talking about and the worst thing I guess was the timing. I kept wondering as to what period/years she was talking about and not till at least 100-150 pages into the book that I came across a line which suggests that the book was set in the eighties. It would have helped greatly to know that. I couldn't comprehend the India in the book to the one I am mostly familiar with now.

To conclude, its definitely an interesting book to read. Beyond that and more, I guess it's the reader's prerogative.
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