Thursday, August 23, 2012

More Novels by Shobhan Bantwal

After reading her latest book, The Reluctant Matchmaker, I decided to go back and read more of Shobhan Bantwal's works.  The first I read is The Unexpected Son.  There are similarities - the protagonist is a woman of Indian descent living and working in New Jersey and torn between the patriarchal rules of her homeland and the more liberal American society.  However, in this case she's an older married woman who married and came to America to escape a shameful past.  As a teenager she fell in love with the wrong man (a rich womanizer on the other side of an cultural divide in her town), became pregnant, was dumped by the man and gave birth to a stillborn baby, or at least that's what she was told by her parents and brother.  When she meets the man who becomes her husband she doesn't tell him of her past as she really likes him and she fears it will scare him away.  Thirty years later the past comes back to haunt her in a very unexpected way and she must reveal everything to her husband. She then returns to India, not knowing whether her husband will forgive her, and must deal with her brother, mother (her father is no longer alive) and the mess of her past.  As with the other novel, this one comes to an expected and happy end after many twists and turns.  But Bantwal writes well and gives insight into her culture which makes the stories a pleasure to read.  I have a couple more of her books lined up so I'll see how they go.

I didn't enjoy The Full Moon Bride as much as the other two books I read by this author.  I think it was because I felt no sympathy for Soorya, the main character.  She was a successful junior environmental lawyer but had no experience with dating and felt ready to get married so she agreed to meet several men through traditional "bride viewings" arranged by her parents.  All the men reject her until she meets Roger who expresses interest in her.  However, Soorya is painfully insecure about her looks and thus believes he is only interested in her father's money.  So she strings him along and is so nasty it's hard to understand why he persists.  At the same time she also strings along Lou, a government lawyer who she meets through work.  He's a vulnerable widower and she, wittingly or not, takes advantage of that.  So, again it's hard to understand what he sees in her as she strings him along too.  For a woman inexperienced with men she manages to manipulate them until she finally gets them to say all the things her fragile ego needs to hear.  In typical Bantwal fashion this book has a happy ending but I can't say I was dying for Soorya to have one.

I liked The Sari Shop Widow though I think I'll take a break from Bantwal for now - her books are all starting to seem the same.  In this book Anjali is a thirty seven year old woman who has been widowed for 10 years when the story begins.  She's devoted the intervening years to transforming her parents' dusty sari shop into a fashionable boutique.  However, the store is now on the brink of bankruptcy due to competition and her father brings in his oldest brother from India to help out.  He's a dictatorial but successful businessman that puts Anjali and her mother on edge with his demands for home cooking, a clean home and other domestic service.  He also brings along his business partner, Rishi, an Anglo-Indian.  As usual the story revolves around the developing relationship between Anjali and Rishi - there are some bumps along the way but of course it all works out in the end.

The Dowry Bride is Bantwal's first novel and the only one I have read which is set entirely in India.  It deals with the touchy and still current issue of brides who are mistreated and killed when their families are not able to fulfill their dowry obligations.  Megha is a young girl whose family has fallen on difficult times so her parents marry her off to the first man who shows an interest and whose family does not demand an exorbitant dowry.  Once married she learns her mother in law, an obese, ugly tyrant of a woman, bribed the astrologer who arranged the marriage to lie about her husband's job, salary and the wealth of his family.  Moreover her mother in law is jealous of her good looks (though she originally made the match to improve the likelihood of having good looking grandchildren) and treats her worse than a servant.  She's verbally abusive and degrades her at every opportunity.  When, after a year, her parents have not yet paid her dowry and she has not conceived a grandchild, her overbearing mother in law and her weak and slimy husband plot to kill her.  She finds out about the plot and runs away with nothing but the clothes on her back.  She cannot return to her family who will bring her back to her husband and does not want to endanger her best friend so she finds shelter with her husband's cousin who has always been kind to her.  She soon learns he's been kind as he's been in love with her since the day they met.  Of course that attraction only makes things more dangerous.  However, in typical Bantwal fashion, after several dramatic twists and turns, including another murder attempt by her mother in law, Megha ends up with the man she loves and they're sure to live happily ever after.

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