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A Good Indian Wife: A Novel Paperback – June 8, 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 114 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Suneel Sarath was born in India, but he is completely Americanized. A Stanford graduate, he is now an anesthesiologist in a San Francisco hospital, owns a condo, and even has a girlfriend from Wisconsin. So he is stunned when, despite his best efforts to be independent, he finds himself returning from a visit to his home village with a “good” Indian bride his parents picked for him. Teacher Leila, though pretty, is a spinster by village standards, and she’s thrilled with her new husband. But Neel remains shocked and in denial and goes on with his routine, leaving Leila to fend for herself in her new world. But sooner or later he has to face his wife, find a halfway point between his rural Indian heritage and urban America life, and decide if Leila is more to him than just part of a contract his parents agreed on. Cherian’s debut novel adds new dimension to the concept and experience of an arranged marriage, and considers such complex and salient issues as immigration and assimilation. --Hilary Hatton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A lovely testament to the reality that happiness . . . can be found in the least expected of places. (Atlanta Dunia)

Engaging and thought provoking; a combination of India and America, tradition and modernity, oneness and individuality. I couldn’t put this book down. (Story Circle Book Reviews)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (June 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393335291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393335293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #734,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Paperback
"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.
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