Anne Cherian’s new novel, A Good Indian Wife, tells several tales in one story.
The first story is the arranged marriage of Indian-American physician Neel Sarath and small-town girl Leila Krishna, born and raised in India.
He’s a thirty-five-year-old bachelor, and she’s a thirty-year-old spinster. Neel is an anesthesiologist, while Leila is an English teacher in India. He prefers condos and white girlfriends, and she pursues literature and bonding with her younger sisters.
The two only come together when Neel’s grandfather, who appears to be sick, ropes him into an arranged marriage with Leila.
The second story told centers around the tradition of family in Indian culture—namely the creation of one, the way a couple is betrothed without a date and the way they magically find a common union to create a child.
The last story Cherian tells is about the struggling relationships many Indians in America have.
Though good, Cherian’s novel is far from perfect. Although some might find the bittersweet, lucky ending endearing, others may find the plot substantiated only by the deus ex machina, and an oppressive novel at best.
Perhaps it is Cherian’s ability to create such a spectrum of impressions that provides her accolades and regards as a writer.
Objectionable material aside, Cherian’s gift in imagery is unmistakable. Contemporary Indian author Jhumpa Lahiri has found her match in terms of an author that can describe Indian culture in a few words. A paragraph from Cherian is as telling as a picture of the Taj Mahal.
Unfortunately, Cherian’s writing style does not always keep up with her storytelling ability. She tends to leave the reader wanting more, and not because of the ending. It feels like most of the book is description and focuses on the details of characters’ thoughts. A deeper, more involving plot would have been useful.
The book is straightforward, and most people familiar with Indian culture would probably find it predictable. However, it is still worth reading.
Cherian’s story does not match her descriptive narration, but the narration in itself is more valuable than most history books. The linguistics and idiosyncrasies of her characters are more realistic than everyday facts, and she achieves a most mentionable feat: her characters are predictable in their actions, making them even more believable.
Her story lacks substance, but her style is unavoidably brilliant. If the Indian immigrants’ tale is to be found, it is not in this book. If the Indian culture is to be found, then Cherian’s novel is as descriptive as modern literature has ever become.