Monday, July 5, 2010

Arranged Marriage by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Arranged Marriage, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, is what I'd call heart-breakingly beautiful.

Arranged Marriage: Stories
(I prefer the cover of the book which I had, the red variant of this cover.)

This is a collection of short-stories, mostly about Indian women living in America. I wanted to buy it as soon as I saw it in the bookstore, because Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is one of the two Indian english authors whose new books I pick up at the bookstore without even looking at the back cover. (The other is Jhumpa Lahiri, who is another brilliant author.) This is a rather old collection, written sometime around the time that I was born (it is, in fact, her first collection of stories), and still these stories have not become outdated or any less touching. This book, like almost every other book by this author, has not failed to deliver.

I really enjoy the style in which the author writes. She has a way of writing with a peculiar rhythm, which I remember one reviewer describing as giving the impression of being translated from another, more exotic tongue. Her writing can transport you far, far away, and her writings have a way of blending fantasy with realism in a strange way. Her writing style is so distinctive that for at least a few days after reading a novel by her I can neither write or think without doing so in the same, definite rhythm in which she does. Somehow, her words give you a surreal experience, while remaining, at their roots, grounded in reality. She has mastered the art of giving the reader a 'powerful emotional experience' (coined by writer Randy Ingermason and believed by him to be the key of writing successful fiction) and she can take you from elated to crushed in a matter of minutes. In fact, one of her stories had me almost hating one character for having an affair, and then simultaneously hoping that the other would have one under almost identical conditions, which is quite remarkable in itself.

Her characters are all very well-written. Most are women, most are Indian, and most are living in America. And yet they all come out from the page as different, some accepting their circumstances, some rebelling, some even liking the way they are living. There are stories about the cultural shock between India and America (which exists even now), stories about important life changes, stories about morals and values, and with her masterful writing Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni makes all her characters gray in their morality and still very, very understandable and like-able.

The plots of the stories are ones that everyone can empathize with. Drawing nourishment from basic human emotions like love, duty, and anger, the roots of these stories are very deeply set in the human heart, and the trees that grow out are able to reach the stars that the author aims for. You are left with the feeling that there is more to this story, that this world is dynamic and these characters will continue on with their lives, which I feel really adds to the story experience. (Also, at least one of these stories goes on to become the novel that hooked me on to this author in the first place - the book I consider to be her masterpiece - The Sister of My Heart).

Final thoughts: I think you might love this book if you're Indian, love it if you are a woman, and love it even if you are neither. Tragic, gorgeous, well-written - definitely worth a read.

Other news: Almost finished with Of Human Bondage, by Maugham, and I'm looking forward to writing a review on it, but I may go with Marr's Ink Exchange first.


  1. @ sakhi .... to read jumpha lahiri is always a great deal, BTW nice blog and nice start ... all the best and keep blogging

  2. omg i totally LOVEEE "sister of my heart"!!! i pikd it up in d library once wen i didn't have anything else 2 rd.....its seriously AWESOME! :)

  3. Thanks Mag.
    Aanal - I agree, Sister of My Heart first introduced me to indian english authors and it has ended up having a huge influence on what I read. Its a brilliant book. Have you read the 'Inheritance of Loss'?
    Also saw you with 'All we ever wanted was everything' today...its an interesting (and mildly disturbing) book (I read it a year or two ago)...tell me what you think of it.

  4. My list grows at a pace much faster than I can read. This also goes on my to-read shelf and I have a new author to follow! Thanks.

  5. Lol, that is always a (very nice) problem. I went to the library today and discovered about five books I want to re-read on an urgent basis, mostly old classics. Still wondering when I'll finish them. I'm glad you liked the review, though. :)


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