A flawed if earnest first novel explores life among a close- knit group of Indian women. India-born Arizona resident Appachana addresses issues of guilt and deception through a variety of narrators--narrators who confess their own ploys, machinations, well-earned guilts, feints, and ruses. But in spite of such seeming variety, a number of factors blunt the book's capacity for surprise: a too-leisurely pace, the sometimes overwhelmingly detailed descriptions, and the author's anticlimactic expositions of mounting revelations. The story centers on a love affair that begins at college when ardently independent-minded Padma falls for Karan, a friend of her older brother. Defying convention, the two become lovers, and Karan promises to marry Padma as soon as he has won their respective parents' permission. He returns to his native city, and she goes home to await his word. There, she learns she's pregnant, and her father rejects her; her letters to Karan go mysteriously unanswered. Meanwhile, her mother and older sister Shanta visit Karan's family, discovering that he's since married another woman. They curse the family and move on. Eventually, in Delhi, Padma comes to pass herself off as a widow whose husband was killed just before their daughter Mallika was born. Three women neighbors become Padma's friends and protectors; Mallika grows up idealizing her ``dead'' father; and Padma, sadly, is unable to forget him. Karan's own marriage remains barren. Only later does he learn that his mother has hidden Padma's letters to him all along. As the deceptions intensify and unravel, with some unexpected twists and turns, Padma and Karan meet again, but (surprise) they've irrevocably changed, and can only mourn their lost selves. A vividly rendered Indian setting, intelligent glimpses of forbidden emotions--and passion lost in an overlong telling.