This quietly brilliant novel is a joy to read. The melding of two vastly different cultures, tradition vies with the impermanence of Americaís potpourri of choices, as acted out in the marriage of San Francisco anesthesiologist Suneel Sarath and his traditional Indian wife.
Certainly Neel has no intention of yielding to his parentís expectations, returning to India only to see his ill grandfather, ultimately trapped in the clever machinations of a family who want only the best for an Americanized son: the proper Indian wife. Leaving behind the typical beautiful blonde girlfriend he proudly woos outside the hospital, where their affair is a secret (or so he thinks), Neel temporizes, allowing Caroline to imagine a future together while appeasing his parents with the woman they have chosen.
Unfortunately, Neel has underestimated his familyís resources, outmaneuvered as he stands next to thirty-year-old Leila at the wedding ceremony, his bride a teacher of English literature who long ago reconciled herself to spinsterhood. On their short honeymoon, Leila attempts to understand her handsome but distant husband, while Neel ignores her, obsessed with the consequences of his actions.
Her cherished dreams of marriage and family finally realized, Leila has no idea what to expect once they are alone in San Francisco, a sheltered life hardly preparing her for the demands of a marriage to a virtual stranger: ďIn the scheme of marriage, a wedding is just the beginning.Ē
The novelís conflicts acted out from three perspectives - Neelís, Leilaís and Carolineís Ė author Anne Cherian paints a fascinating picture of a love triangle on a collision course with reality. Caroline is most predictable, deluding herself into thinking she will triumph over this unwanted bride. For his part, Neel runs interference between the two women, lying to Leila while keeping Caroline at bay, his half-formed plan for resolution increasingly unlikely.
But it is Leila who shines in this story, unable to comprehend her husbandís reticence yet eagerly embraced by new friends in America who declare her beautiful and interesting. Leila draws strength from adversity, moving beyond the desire to please this unfathomable man to explore her own inner resources, her integrity and honesty undiminished by Neelís duplicity.
Their slow mating dance beleaguered by Neelís dishonesty and Leilaís lack of self-confidence, the couple finds themselves at a crossroads. Beautifully realized characters, with all their flaws and uncertainties, people a believable and poignant tale, where love planted in Indian soil blooms in the City by the Bay.