I heard a lot about this book on Twitter when it was released, mostly these three observations: “This book is so awesome!” and “Why has the publisher priced it so high?” and “It needs a better cover for a romance book!” Luckily, my local library had a copy, so I didn’t have to wait for it to go on sale.
Mili was married when she was four years old, in a mass wedding ceremony. Her husband was twelve. They never saw each other after the ceremony, but Mili grew up assuming that one day her husband would come for her. While he became a military pilot, she cared for his grandparents and his ancestral home. She also biked for miles every day to attend an English school. Her traditional grandmother allowed her to continue her education only because Mili’s husband might want an educated wife, and so Mili even gets to travel to America to study for a few months.
Samir is Mili’s brother-in-law. When his brother is in an accident, Samir vows to track down the child bride and secure a divorce. Samir is a famous playboy director in India, and he believes that his charm and good looks will convince the naive village girl to sign the papers right away.
When Samir tracks Mili down, extenuating circumstances prevent him from explaining who he is right off the bat. Then, when Mili hurts her arm and foot (she’s a clumsy girl), he sticks around to help her and learn more about her. It turns out that Samir is an excellent cook. Mili has been living mainly on cafeteria french fries, chocolate bars, and leftover food from her job as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant. Samir brings vegetables back into her life, and dal, and all the tastes of home, and she nearly falls in love with him, except that she’s a married woman.
I loved how Mili and Samir saw things so differently. Mili was raised in a small village and she’s never had much money. In Michigan, she lives in a run-down, barely-furnished apartment, and she thinks her apartment building is the most beautiful building she’s seen, with its red brick and white trim. When the rich, polished, worldly Samir sees it, however, he notes the peeling trim on a building that looks abandoned. Mili finds an abandoned bicycle and loves it for its bright yellow frame, while Samir sees how it’s dented, wobbly, and barely rideable. Later, Mili borrows a blouse from an older woman. She admires it because it has pretty flowers. In Samir’s eyes, the blouse is decades out of style.
Despite their differences, Mili and Samir share a cultural connection. They speak the same Hindi dialect; they enjoy the same food; they have an understanding about each other’s background. They develop a sweet, teasing friendship, which leads to them attending an Indian wedding together and having some frank conversations about where their non-relationship is going.
I enjoyed everything about this book, and I want to specifically mention the ending without giving spoilers. Let’s accept that in almost any romance, there’s a crisis that separates the couple, and more often than not, their reunion takes place in the last few pages of the book. In this story, the reunion is given so much more depth. These characters have a lot to work out, and the author doesn’t shortchange it by saying, “Oh, everything’s fine, let’s move on.” We’re given more than a glimpse of Samir’s home and family, and Mili is given the emotional time and space to deal with big changes in her life. Plus, several times I thought the author would take the easy, predictable way out, but she always surprised me. I just felt so satisfied at the end of the story, because she didn’t take any shortcuts.
So, yes, you should totally read this book. It’s culturally enlightening yet easy to understand. The alternating points of view show real character growth, and the romance is slow and sweet. It will make you happy.
Click to purchase: Amazon
A Bollywood Affair
by Sonali Dev
Release Date: October 28, 2014