A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Rating: 2.5 stars
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "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 naïve 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.
Heartfelt, witty, and thoroughly engaging, Sonali Dev’s debut is both a vivid exploration of modern India and a deeply honest story of love, in all its diversity."Review: The summary claims that this book is "both a vivid exploration of modern India and a deeply honest story of love." If that were true I think I would have fallen in love with this story. In reality, this book fell flat.
Here are my problems with this book:
-Mili is so unbelievably naive. She's had a very sheltered childhood, which would make her naivety plausible if she never left her small village. But she's moved away, gone to college, left the country even. By herself. This does not suggest that she's the wilting violet that she appears in this book. I was frustrated by her guilelessness and lack of wisdom, not only because characters like that irk me, but because her naivety doesn't match her experience. I don't believe that she could have gone through the kind of life she has led and still come out on the other side a blubbering child. She should have been stronger than that. More resourceful. Quicker. Smarter. I don't buy her simple-mindedness.
-Because of Mili's childlike nature, I did not at all buy the romance between her and Samir. They're polar opposites in every possible way. I've seen a few opposites attract romances that I bought, but this one felt awkward and forced. It was especially disappointing because I (mostly) liked Samir, and I wanted him to be happy. But I in no way believe that Mili could make him happy long-term. But even if I did like the characters, I still wouldn't have liked this romance because it was completely based on lies.
-I should clarify my feelings on Samir. Samir is an arrogant, selfish jerk. But I (mostly) liked him despite his many faults because he seemed capable of growth. I wanted him to develop some self-reflection and grow from his realizations. I believed he could become better. But he didn't become better. He became someone else entirely. (Unfortunately, someone who still had pretty significant blind spots on their own self-awareness.) Which leads me to the next point:
-This book features that annoying trope where the bad boy meets the good girl and then, suddenly and magically, his entire personality changes.
-"Little Sam." UGH. My eyes got stuck in the back of my head from rolling them so much.
-I had the hardest time keeping straight Samir's past. I couldn't figure out what happened in which barn, in what country, on what side of the family... It took until almost the end of the book for me to really get the timeline/applicable characters/events straight.
-Every single character is bipolar. I am not kidding. Their reactions fell in two camps: the "how dare you, I hate you, you disgust me" camp, and the "you're amazing, onyx perfection, and I desperately need you" camp. The mood swings were extreme and extremely exhausting. I mean, really. How about a little subtlety? Plus, it's kind of insulting to actual people with bipolar disorder. It's a real problem for real people, and this book either doesn't know how to portray healthy human emotions, or it's mocking the extremes that real bipolar people feel.
-I actually quite like Bollywood films. But this didn't feel like Bollywood to me. The over-the-top moments were irrational and forced, not the grand, sweeping romantic gestures I hoped for. It was cheesy where it should have been grounded, and illogical where it should have been romantic. Again, I just didn't buy it.
-So much focus on Samir's writing, and we never really see the final script. I don't need to read the whole thing verbatim, but give me something here. Good grief.
Clearly I did not get along with this book. But despite my many issues with it, I will say that Dev can write one amazing food scene. Seriously, I have been craving Indian food ever since I finished this book. And I don't even like Indian food all that much. BUT I NEEDS IT. So kudos for that. Also, I appreciated that this book brought up the topic of child brides. I wish this issue was discussed more broadly, and I'm glad the author was brave enough to include it here. And, lastly, despite my frustration, I never stopped reading. Not even for a day. I figure that's got to count for something.
Review in a GIF:
Bottom Line: Strangely compelling, since I despised almost everything about it.