Top positive review
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"In the scheme of marriage, a wedding is just the beginning."
on May 16, 2008
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 Meanwhile, Leila has no idea why her romantic dreams fail to reach fruition, Neel withdrawn and uncommunicative, juggling the real-time problems of married life with a demanding girlfriend who has long harbored her own fantasies of the future.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.