Deception, once begun, becomes the painful legacy of the Karim family, generations of failed communication yielding a fragile relationship begun with the foolish ambition of a young girl. Taking advantage of her intimidating beauty and her suitor’s shyness, thirteen-year-old Henna Rub, in collusion with her father, passes herself off as a well-educated sixteen to marry Ricky-Rashid Karim.
Of two minds himself, Ricky imagines his future as an accomplished, cosmopolitan man, but his alter ego, Rashid, is tied to the deceitful Henna, who has intentionally perpetrated a sham on him and his family. He learns on his wedding night that Henna is neither educated nor sophisticated; the bride is, in fact, younger and quite ignorant. Unfortunately, Rashid dare not reveal the trick lest his family be shamed by their new daughter-in-law. Instead, he waits to consummate a marriage that will humiliate and depress him under its demanding weight.
Henna’s love of duplicity is a character trait that defines her, ultimately poisoning any happiness her family might have enjoyed. She provides Rashid with one child: a daughter, Shona. Thereafter she is unable to get pregnant again, yet another of Henna’s facile lies. Meanwhile, Rashid dreams of escape: “Ricky” hopes to live in London one day, opening another office for his company.
Eventually an opportunity arises, Rashid in Calcutta and Bangladesh transformed years later in London when “Ricky” resurfaces. Now a man with two lives, Ricky far prefers London, where he meets a woman who understands him, composing more lies to sustain a marriage that exists only in the imagination. Henna is content to remain in marital purgatory. She has never wanted more than society’s acceptance, enjoying many frivolous activities, entertaining friends, participating in events as a married woman whose husband is seldom available.
Their only child, Shona of the sunny disposition, is virtually raised by servants, happier away from her mother and barely visible to an increasingly busy father. Rebelling as she matures, Shona plans her own life without the advice of a distant mother, eloping after graduation with her Pakistani boyfriend, Parvez.
Known by their friends as “The Couple Who Was in Love,” Shona trusts that married life will be wonderful in London, only to find that Parvez is unable to sustain the lifestyle she had imagined, facing the fact that she has married below her status. After much difficulty, the couple has twin sons, Parvez supporting his family with difficulty.
At this point, the novel begins to explore the damage of years of deception, Henna, Ricky, Shona and her Pakistani husband and twin sons faced with the dysfunction of their relationships. After years of half-truths and denial, Shona becomes the agent of change. Finally facing the consequences of unvarnished truth, the shocked family recovers from the most unsettling circumstances. Despite the author’s propensity for Bollywood style prose, the underlying theme is serious and compelling, a family learning that love and forgiveness can surmount even the most desperate situation.