Book Review: A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

Mili Rathod hasn’t seen her husband in twenty years–not since she was promised to him at the age of four. Yet marriage has allowed Mili a freedom rarely given to girls in her village. Her grandmother has even allowed her to leave India and study in America for eight months, all to make her the perfect modern wife. Which is exactly what Mili longs to be–if her husband would just come and claim her.

Bollywood’s favorite director, Samir Rathod, has come to Michigan to secure a divorce for his older brother. Persuading a naive village girl to sign the papers should be easy for someone with Samir’s tabloid-famous charm. But Mili is neither a fool nor a gold-digger. Open-hearted yet complex, she’s trying to reconcile her independence with cherished traditions. And before he can stop himself, Samir is immersed in Mili’s life – cooking her dal and rotis, escorting her to her roommate’s elaborate Indian wedding, and wondering where his loyalties and happiness lie.

A Bollywood Affair is my book group’s selection for February — we do have a tendency to go romance-themed each year at this time, and the results have been decidely mixed for me. I’m not a romance reader, although I do enjoy a good love story every so often. Still, there are elements of the genre that just don’t float my boat, but more on that later…

In A Bollywood Affair, we start with a marriage between two children. Mili, at age 4, is married off to Virat, a much older 12 years old, by arrangement between their grandparents. Apparently, mass weddings between children are traditional in the region of Mili’s birth. And while the two children are immediately separated, they’re expected to eventually live as man and wife once they’re old enough. Meanwhile, Mili’s grandmother raises her to be a perfect wife, and only at Mili’s insistence that her husband would want her to be as educated as city girls is she allowed to attend university and pursue an education.

At age 24, Mili travels to Michigan for graduate work in sociology, aiming to work toward her goal of improving the lives of women in India. She has no money though, and her fellowship leaves her only the barest subsistence to get by on.

Back in India, Virat and his pregnant wife learn that the annulment of his marriage to his child bride was never finalized, and he’s worried that this will interfere with the well-being of his wife and baby. Virat’s younger brother Samir, a playboy heart-throb who is (of course) gorgeous and has (of course) a heart of gold hidden beneath his player, bad boy exterior, is sent to America to get Mili to sign the annulment papers once and for all. And (of course), things get complicated.

Mili is klutzy, innocent, and awkward, and immediately rides a bike into a tree and injures herself in Samir’s presence, so he has no choice but to stay and take care of her, hiding the true reason for his arrival. He’s drawn to her sweetness and beauty; she’s drawn to his kindness and amazing biceps. They open up to each other emotionally, but the secret reason for Samir’s presence looms in the background, ready to ruin the love growing between the two of them.

Mili is a little too naive to be believable, and Samir is too much of the bad-boy-who-is-secretly-good stereotype. Mili clings to her vision of her marriage and the husband who will someday claim her as his wife, even as she works to better the status of women’s rights in India. Samir puts up with an awful lot to be near Mili, and it’s kind of hard to buy his willingness to immediately devote himself to her. Both being gorgeous, amazing in the kitchen, and absolutely fantastic people, they are naturally and immediately drawn to each other, and (we’re told) have a strong chemistry that keeps them both lusting after one another pretty much constantly.

Look, I basically liked the story, but I have issues. First off, please spare me from any book in which the main male character names his penis. Sorry, but no. I do not want to hear Samir refer to “Little Sam”, not once and not repeatedly. I also don’t want to hear about Mili’s “dark crevices”, as in…

Her name rumbled in his chest. She felt the sound rather than heard it and warmth melted through her like molten gold filling a mold at the goldsmith’s. It slid into her heart and into the deep dark crevices of her body.

Did I mention already that I’m not really a romance reader? I’m no prude, but I don’t need every detail of a sexual encounter spelled out for me — body parts and fluids and the rest. The overblown language during the sex scenes just immediately pulled me out (no pun intended) of the mood and made me giggle instead:

She let him jab into her, free her, tangle her. She tasted him, breathed him in. His smoky taste, clean and dark and hot. His tongue, hungry and probing and hot. His heavy shoulders under her fingers, firm and yielding and hot.

Yes. Hot. I get it.

Man, do I sound mean right now, but honestly, this kind of writing just doesn’t work for me.

That said, I actually enjoyed a lot of the story, when the gasping and tasting and “liquid skin” and “sensitive, secret flesh” weren’t getting in the way. I really liked the descriptions of the foods and the clothing and the traditions that we see through Mili and Samir’s experiences, and the backstory about Samir’s childhood is both upsetting and touching. The obligatory secret between the main characters (there wouldn’t be much of a plot without it) makes the drama feel forced at times, but I came to care enough about Mili and Samir as people that I was willing to overlook most of the elements that I didn’t care for.

Would I recommend this book? I’d say it’s a very qualified… maybe. I don’t regret reading it, and I’m looking forward to discussing it with my book group — despite the fact that this isn’t the type of book I’d usually choose to read. Still, if you’re a fan of steamy scenes in the midst of your love stories, you may truly love A Bollywood Affair!

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The details:

Title: A Bollywood Affair
Author: Sonali Dev
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Romance
Source: Purchased

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Flashback Friday: The Far Pavilions

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

The Far Pavilions

The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye

(first published 1978)

From Goodreads:

After the death of his parents, young Ashton Pelham-Martyn is brought up as a Hindu in a remote corner of British India. As an adult soldier he returns to India, where his love for a princess and his dual heritage make for an epic story of adventure and romance.

This is a huge book, somewhere around 1,000 pages depending on which version you pick up, so in terms of bookshelf space and usefulness as a doorstop, right up there with the Game of Thrones books (yes, I know that’s not what they’re called, but it’s quicker to type) and my beloved Outlander series.

I remember absolutely loving The Far Pavilions when I read it so many years ago. It really is a perfect blend of historical fiction — depicting life and society in India under the British Empire — with a stirring, romantic tale of forbidden love. Ash is a wonderful character, a British boy raised by his Indian nurse after his own parents’ death, with conflicting loyalties and a confused identity. We see him through his youth, his return to British society, and his military service, and his reunion with a long-lost childhood love and his desperate attempt to save her from a cruel fate. The love story of Ash and Anjuli belongs among the ranks of the best tortured, tragic, against-all-odds lovers in fiction.

The Far Pavilions was published during a decade in which big, sweeping historical sagas were dominating the bestseller lists. In a time in which Shogun by James Clavell, The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk were all hugely popular, it makes sense that so many were drawn to The Far Pavilions as well.

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee

From Amazon:

Anjali Bose’s prospects don’t look great. Born into a traditional lower-middle‑class family, she lives in a backwater town with only an arranged marriage on the horizon. But her ambition, charm, and fluency in language do not go unnoticed by her charismatic and influential expat teacher, Peter Champion. And champion her he does, both to powerful people who can help her along the way and to Anjali herself, stirring in her a desire to take charge of her own destiny. So she sets off to Bangalore, India’s fastest‑growing metropolis, and soon falls in with an audacious and ambitious crowd of young people, who have learned how to sound American by watching shows like Seinfeld in order to get jobs in call centers, where they quickly out‑earn their parents. And it is in this high‑tech city where Anjali — suddenly free of the confines of class, caste, and gender — is able to confront her past and reinvent herself. Of course, the seductive pull of life in the New India does not come without a dark side . . .

Why do I want to read this?

I’ve had this book on my wish list since I first heard about it last year. Americans tend to make fun of the concept of US companies that outsource call centers to India — but what is the experience like for the people who actually work for one of these call centers? I really liked the sound of this book, with its focus on a girl from a traditional upbringing finding freedom in the big city, plus I always enjoy reading about new places and cultures, and I haven’t read much fiction set in modern-day India. I’m really looking forward to reading this one… and luckily, I won’t have to wait long! I snatched up a copy of Miss New India at a book swap I attended last week, and as soon as my reading pile shrinks a bit, I’ll be diving in.

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!