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Madras on Rainy Days: A Novel Hardcover – January 15, 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this painstakingly detailed but strained debut, Ali explores the stifling world of Indian Muslim domestic life and the odd partnership forged by husband and wife in an arranged marriage fraught with secrets. As the novel begins, Layla, a 20-something Muslim who grew up mostly in the United States, is preparing for her marriage in Hyderabad, India, to Sameer, a man she barely knows. The elaborate ceremonies leading up to the wedding day are undercut by Layla's memories of her secret American boyfriend and by her painful cramps as she suffers through a prolonged miscarriage. Family tensions also mount-Layla's bitter divorced mother rails at her father, who has remarried-but Layla soldiers on, eventually warming to Sameer, a good-looking engineer with modern ideas of his own. After the wedding, the young couple grow steadily closer, but Layla is unable to coax Sameer to consummate the marriage. At first she thinks she is to blame, but on their honeymoon trip to Madras, she learns differently from an unexpected visitor. As Ali shows, it is not only American-raised Muslims who are seduced by Western ideals of independence and romantic love; in the end, Sameer and Layla make a complex, unconventional peace. Striving laudably for subtlety, but never quite managing to achieve a natural rhythm, Ali loses her readers with earnest, stilted conversation and exposition. At the novel's climax, the introduction of yet another weighty but insufficiently digested theme-Hindu-Muslim violence-gives the tale an extra edge of darkness.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Ali's first novel is set in the Indian city of Hyderabad, where Layla is days away from her arranged marriage to Sameer, a handsome young engineer. But Layla is harboring a secret: before she left her home in America, she slept with an American man and became pregnant. Layla has been taking pills to abort the baby, but they've caused her to bleed constantly. Her distraught mother takes her to a spiritual healer, but he is unable to help, and the wedding goes forward despite Layla's concerns. On their first night together she confesses to Sameer that she is not a virgin, and a rift forms instantly between the young newlyweds. Layla finds her new in-laws welcoming and overjoyed to have her, and she warms to her husband and longs to consummate their marriage. But Sameer has a secret as well, one that could ruin his marriage to Layla before it has really begun. Religious clashes and civil unrest also factor into this powerful, atmospheric novel of modern-day India. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374195625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374195625
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,456,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book provides a searing look into the complex world of Indian Muslims, and particularly when it is mixed with the influence of Western culture, its materialism and its freedom. Layla is a young woman raised both in India and in the west and as a result she belongs in neither world. Yet that is what she longs for, more than anything -- to belong. So when her mother arranges a marriage to the son of family friends, Layla reluctantly goes along, rather than risk ostracism from her family. She soon finds that Islam provides her life with a safety net, a sense of belonging that she had never experienced before. And so she falls in love, not only with her husband, who is all but a stranger to her, but with her husband's family, and the closeness it provides. Ultimately however, the secrets everyone's been witholding are slowly revealed, including Layla's own, and she must make some tough choices.
This is a gorgeously written novel that brings to life the dichotomy of life under Islam, particularly for women. I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
Layla has spent her life on the periphery of two divergent cultures; while in India she is constantly reminded of her American upbringing whereas while in Minnesota her Indian accent is frequently remarked upon by strangers. This theme of not fully belonging to either culture runs throughout MADRAS ON RAINY DAYS as Layla marries her fiancé Sameer in an arranged marriage with plans to return to the United States afterward. This novel provides an in-depth glimpse of a Muslim Indian wedding and its varied traditions resulting in a colorful feast of words and images for the reader.
As a result of Layla and Sameer's precarious situation of marrying someone that is a virtual stranger they join in matrimony with their own hidden secrets. Despite their pledge after the conclusion of the wedding festivities to leave the past alone when their secrets are revealed they cause significant tensions between husband and wife and aim to end their marriage. But in the tradition of Indian culture these problems don't simply exist between Layla and Sameer but rather become a matter of discussion and problem solving for both extended families and even the neighborhood itself.
There is little doubt that Samina Ali paints a rather somber and sinister portrait of the restrictive Muslim customs and religious beliefs that void the freedoms of Layla and other women in general. In addition the centuries-old feuding between Hindus and Muslims in India also put women in peril and dangerous situations if they are found without adequate protection of men.
Overall MADRAS ON RAINY DAYS is a vibrant and satisfying read that touches on several serious issues that deserve attention and consideration. In light of the seductiveness and whimsy of recent Indian literature published in the past several years this book is a good addition to the bunch. I'm looking forward to future books by this talented author. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
Ali's storytelling is richly and beautifully detailed, even as it describes the dark and oppressive themes that run throughout the story. Her description of Hyderabadi life and culture was so vivid and visceral, I felt as though I was standing there even though I have never seen the place. I think the reason that it so enveloped me was her deliberate choice to introduce each character (Layla, her parents, Sameer, and the rest of the family members) as sort of a blank slate, onto which the reader naturally imposes his or her own presuppositions. Then she slowly reveals details about each character that pique the reader's interest and often run counter to these presuppositions. However, I should add that the whole idea of this mystery with its nebulous characters never seemed to clarify itself to me. Sameer's "secret" seemed too much a contrived plot to bridge Eastern and Western social culture, and the ending seemed to beg for a little more summarization of how Layla's character had grown through all this. It is not clear what our protagonist has gained from all these trying experiences, aside from learning that she can "hide behind her veil" if she remains in Hyderabad where she now feels at home; perhaps a short epilogue would have given readers some closure on Layla's future on her own.
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Format: Hardcover
I saw this book on a shelf at the local library and thought it looked a bit too fem for a guy like me. Still, because of it's relation to my beloved India, I knew that I had to read it. I must say that I disagree with most of the negative comments found above. Firstly, it was a relief that the author did not launch into a hackneyed and drawn out description of the Indian wedding - it's been done before and once the description starts...it never ends, much like an Indian wedding (though I know little of the Muslim version, I imagine it is similar). Better to leave something to our imagination. The book is pleasingly devoid of the cerebral, post modern psychobabble that you find in other writers in this genre. Moreover, this is a personal story of this young woman's choices and those thrust upon her. I like the fact that it wasn't playing up on India's exotic appeal, but rather it's a personal journey that just happens to be taking place in Hyderbad. India is in cast, for sure, but it is not the lead role.

Although some of the scenarios may be a bit forced (like the Hindu violence against the Muslims), it is fiction, after all and the author has a right to take such liberties. As a *Hindu* (a meaningless word which I am using for convention's sake)I was pleased with her description of Hindu beliefs: sensative and not judgemental. Although that crack about Ganesh mentioned above was a faux pas, it was an understandable one and appropriate to the story.

I get the feeling the other Western reviewers never have had the distinct pleasure of residing in, or maybe even visiting, India. Frankly, what Samina Ali has written is %100 accurate. Yes, even Sameer's "secret" is far more likely to be the truth than that other reviewer could ever imagine.
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