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The first chapter begins with the harsh life of a poor, low caste girl - Lakshmi born in Chennai, India in the 1950's. Lakshmi's salvation comes from marriage to a kind-hearted Shankar allowing her to immigrate to the United States. In the US, she and her family face a different sort of discrimination - one based on race and religion. Unable to fathom the western culture that is "alien" to her, she seeks salvation for her 17 year old daughter Pooja with marriage - an arranged marriage. Unfortunately the arranged marriage, which in her former cultural context - an entirely reasonable and accepted norm, crashes and burns. The irony of the story, is that the (path of ) marriage is hard to reach for her granddaughter Deepa since Deepa is born gay. The struggles each of this women face within themselves, with each other and the world - makes this a heart-wrenching novel. The fourth section, from the point of the narrator, brings these characters into a collective perspective and ties it all together.
The author says that her intent is for the reader to see the world with a different lens than what they are accustomed and empathize with people who are different. Though, I am very familiar with life experiences of the immigrant from South Asian and Indian perspective, the life of the 1% born with a different sexual orientation is something that I was unaware. One thing that struck me was that they are just like me and anybody else I know in the heterosexual world ! This made me wonder - when and how our mind and "I" in us identifies our inclinations in the realm of sexual identity. You are born with it and don't choose it !
I am sure the engaged readers may contemplate a thoughtful dialogue with their families and friends if and when they care to delve into this sensitive subject matter. I am equally sure of their varied and diverse opinions. And, that is the beauty of this book - to begin a dialogue and a take a fresh look at many of the age-old discriminations that ails us humans.
I am looking forward to the next novel by this author, as I am certain that her research into the subject matter will be first rate and her empathetic depiction will enable me to peer into the mind(s) of the subject(s) in general and society at large.
Lakshmi born in Chennai, India in the 1950's, slum poor where the nearest toilet is a quarter mile away and breakfast is a wish, without much hope other than surviving a harsh and precarious life in servitude.
Alpa her BFF and a character who is a wonderful addition to the story.
Shankar is the man she marries, a doctor, it's like a lifeline which involves immigration to small town USA. Even after decades in the US Laksmi feels like a stranger in a strange land.
Pooja is their thoroughly American daughter. At age 17 her parents, much like Indian parents, arrange her marriage and like 50 percent of American marriages is a not a success. Pooja was against the arranged marriage from the start and created a deep rift between daughter and mother. And this only touches on Pooja's life.
Deepa, is Pooja's daughter. She falls in love, with a woman. She is very comfortable in her love with everyone but her family as she knows the tumult that will cause.
The twist in this novel is the introduction of the narrator in the last section to bring the story to a close.
Want a little bit more? Search "Read an Excerpt from The Paths of Marriage by Mala Kumar" at Aerogram for an excerpt between Deepa & her grandmother including a 2 minute video promo of the book.
A wonderfully entertaining and detailed review can be found on line at 'The Rainbow Reader' "The Paths of Marriage".
Author interview at American Bizarre "Coming out is really just not an option for a lot of LGBT South-Asian American people"
An author essay in the Advocate magazine can be found on line "Op-ed: Why I Quit My Job at the United Nations". And another written almost a year before the publication date can be found on-ine "Guest Post: Mala Kumar on Her Upcoming Book, The Circumstance of Marriage"
An Interview with the author done 7 months before the book published can be foudn on line at 'Women and Words' "The Circumstance of Marriage".