Imaginary Men
Anjali Banerjee
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Imaginary Men

Anjali Banerjee
Downtown Press
256 pages
October 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Lina Ray, the thirty-something heroine of Anjali Banerjee’s adult debut novel, is caught between the proverbial rock and the hard place. She is an American-born professional whose parents emigrated from Kolkata, India. Growing up in a household where traditional Indian values were followed, Lina confronted Western culture outside. While Lina has been able to adroitly maneuver her way between the contrasting cultures for much of her life, she faces a hard decision while in Kolkata for her sister’s wedding. Appalled by Lina’s single status, her aunt arranges for a bridegroom. To get out of this arranged marriage, Lina blurts out that she has a fiancé, a globe-trotting businessman. Thus begins Lina’s web of lies that takes the story from Kolkata to San Francisco and introduces us to a smorgasbord of characters, some witty, others quite pathetic.

Lina is a matchmaker by profession. She has quite an eye for compatible humans, and she can quickly spot the “shimmering love thread” that makes successful matches. However, for all her skills in arranging partners for others, she has been unable to find one for herself since her fiancé died in a car accident. When Lina has to deal with her relatives’ insistence on producing her fiancé, she embarks on a sequence of subterfuges, some of which are laugh-out loud funny. There is the overworked doctor who falls asleep at dinner, a gay friend who is quite willing to help her, and various well-meaning friends who create more confusion than solutions. And then there is Raja Prasad. The dashing prince first meets Lina in Kolkata and then again in San Francisco, when he crosses the Atlantic to find a mate for his younger brother. Slowly but surely, Lina is drawn to him, even though Raja Prasad’s values seem to contradict Lina’s own.

Anjali Banerjee’s talent in making the reader empathize with a protagonist who is caught between two cultures is palpable. She clearly portrays the singles scene in both milieus. The absurdity of the matchmaking process rings true, as do the motivations of young professionals in search of a life partner. The writing, while flippant and casual at times, captures the zeitgeist of young urban professionals, whether in Kolkata or in San Francisco. Lina Ray is a quirky, seemingly self-assured, yet constantly in self-doubt, heroine of this charming novel that successfully goes beyond the “chick-lit” genre.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Ram Subramanian, 2005

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