SHARMILA'S BOOK by Bharti Kirchner


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From an Indian-born cookbook author and second-novelist (Shiva Dancing, 1998, etc.) comes this luminously evocative, if breathless, tale of the cultural fissures that emerge as a very modern woman contemplates an arranged marriage. Kirchner’s tale is an affectionate grace note to the subcontinent as well as a sensual feast: she describes vividly the sights, sounds, and especially the food encountered by her protagonist, Sharmila. But at the same time, the story she tells, while provocative, does not serve Sharmila quite so well. Allegedly intelligent, an artist born and raised in Chicago by her immigrant parents, she’s savvy and hip, but her reaction to lovers (—I glow from a momentary brush with fire—) and the story itself seem more like brushes with the stuff of pulp fiction. After a number of disappointing relationships, thirtysomething Sharmila finally consents to her Hindu mother arranging a marriage for her. Mother soon finds someone—widower Raj Khosala—and Sharmila heads to India to get to know Raj and her future in-laws. At the airport in Delhi, she is met by both Raj and Prem, his “untouchable” driver. Raj is handsome and agreeable but leaves immediately on a business trip. Prem, who has a college degree, becomes Sharmila’s tour guide. Meantime, Raj’s mother is not exactly welcoming, and Sharmila soon learns that the well-born Khosala family has secrets: Raj’s first wife died in the house, and Sharmila’s father may be giving them a dowry despite her wishes to pay off their debts. Sharmila is attracted to and then repelled by Raj and his family, finds herself increasingly drawn to Prem, and—though initially delighting in all things Indian—moves inevitably toward finding the culture ever more oppressive. The pressures increase as the wedding nears, as Sharmila’s parents arrive, and as Sharmila herself must decide to whether cancel the engagement. Overall, multicultural romance lite.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1999
ISBN: 0-525-94368-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999


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