Indian Maidens Bust Loose by Vidya Samson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Vidya Samsom pulls off quite a coup with this book. She managed to write a very funny book (at times it was laugh out loud funny) that touches on some very serious subjects. The entire book is told in first person by a young woman named Nisha Desai, who lives in a house that is comfortably middle class by Indian standards, but it looks very strange and inhospitable to her two American born and bred cousins.
The house belongs to Nisha's mother's mother, which makes for an interesting dynamic, as Nisha's father is a petty tyrant who wants to rule the roost, even though he doesn't own the hen house. Nisha's mother is suffering from a bad case of sibling rivalry as her disgraced sister (she ran off with a white American boy when she was quite young) has been allowed to return home with her two young daughters. Nisha and her sister Vinita give up their own rooms so the aunt and cousins can be more comfortable but this isn't what disrupts Nisha's life: the cousins have not been taught that their father's word is law; they don't believe in tradition and blind respect for elders. Pretty soon Nisha waffles between envy, fear, and wistfulness as she realizes how different her life is from theirs. For one thing, their father isn't trying to marry them off to any man who will take them off his hands without asking too much dowry.
Other themes touched on include the caste system, the plight of the poor, the corrupt nature of politicians, the difference between acting from a sense of duty and acting out of love, and how easily many people are fooled by false hopes. There's a dash of romance thrown in, mostly at the end, but this isn't really about falling in love as much as it is about learning to know yourself.
Nisha's tone is very funny and personable. The author has some of the characters speak English with a kind of consistently incorrect grammar that borders on dialect, which wore on me after a while. It might be accurate but repetition made it annoying. There were just a few rough spots on this gem, but on the whole it was a very enjoyable book that was also rather an education. It reminded me of the kind of comedy of manners kind of book that authors like Nancy Mitford used to write; the author could even have called this one LOVE IN A HOT CLIMATE.
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