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by Betsy Woodman

Pub Date: July 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9349-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

Memories of the Raj are never far away in an affectionately old-fashioned tale of community life set in the fictional Indian hill town of Hamara Nagar in 1960.

It’s the town’s classification as a “second-rate hill station…of negligible importance” that sets events in motion in Woodman’s debut, as citizens either welcome or despair of government plans to construct a dam that will flood the area and their homes. When Indian-born Janet (Jana) Laird, the widow of an American missionary, inherits and then moves into an historical building in Hamara Nagar, she encounters both Hindu and Muslim neighbors including a kindly merchant, a newspaper editor, a philosophical tailor and various wives. The only fly in the social ointment is the villainous police commissioner Bandhu Sharma, a bully and extortionist who, alone in the community, is in favor of the dam. Recruited into the anti-dam campaign, which centers on turning the town into a tourist destination, Janet agrees to open the eponymous fortune-telling salon where, decked out in jewels and costume, with her parrot Mr. Ganguly selecting the cards, she is surprisingly successful. Here, however, the story loses focus, forgets the dam and piles up a sequence of minor crises as individual destinies are tidily resolved in readiness for episode two of the planned series.

Good-humored, soft-centered, nostalgic armchair tourism.