on October 26th 2004
Published by Ballantine Books
Set in India
Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.
Priya is horrified to realize that she considers India differently now than when she left. It is too noisy and chaotic. She is scared to eat food in the market without washing it first. She also can’t fit easily back into her family. Now she sees the racism and misogyny that she grew up with and considered normal.
She knows that her family will probably disown her when she admits to loving a foreigner. She isn’t going to tell them that she’s been living with him for two years.
Things come to a head during a few days at her grandmother’s house to make mango pickle. Her entire extended family is there. She sees how horribly everyone treats her unmarried aunt and the woman of the wrong caste that her uncle married. Her mother and another aunt spend the whole time in a power struggle. When Priya starts speaking her mind she throws her family into an uproar.
This book made me nervous. I knew that at some point Priya’s family was going to try to arrange a marriage for her. So I did the unthinkable. I read the last chapter to see how it ended.
I knew if it was up in the air for me that I would rush through the book to find out. This is a book that should be savored more than rushed.
“I looked at all the women in the room and wondered if behind the facade all of us wore for family occasions we were strangers to each other.
I was trying to be the graceful granddaughter visiting from America but my true colors were slipping past the carefully built mockery of myself I was presenting. Maybe the masks worn by the others were slipping, too. Maybe by the end of the day I would know the women behind the masks and they would know me.
I tried once again to talk to Ma but she shunned me and I concluded that she didn’t want to look behind the label: DAUGHTER, and didn’t want me to look behind the label: MA. If she wouldn’t show me hers, how could I show her mine?”
When discussing her grandfather:
“The man was a bigot, a racist, a chauvinist, and generally too arrogant for anyone’s liking, yet I loved him. Family never came in neat little packages with warranty signs on them.”
I saw this video just after I finished the book and it fit the story perfectly. I laughed at loud at the line about chapati.