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THE VINE OF DESIRE by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

THE VINE OF DESIRE

By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-385-49729-6
Publisher: Doubleday

Overwrought and sluggishly paced sequel to Sister of My Heart (1999), continuing the tale of two Indian cousins who now find their close relationship threatened by old loves and new sorrows in California.

Divakaruni excels at creating distinctive characters and nicely evoked settings, whether in San Francisco or Calcutta, but the story she tells here is much less uncompelling. The mention of significant events happening elsewhere (Mandela’s election, the war in Sarajevo) seems annoyingly pretentious when counterpoised against the melodrama of the characters’ lives. The year is 1993. Anju, married to Sunil and living in San Francisco, is having difficulty recovering from a recent miscarriage. Her marriage is also suffering, and so homesick Anju decides that a visit from her cousin might help. Sudha, who left husband Ramesh when he supported his mother’s demand that she abort the female child she was carrying, arrives with baby Dayita. The cousins are delighted to see each other, but tensions soon strain their former closeness. Sudha, distressed to observe that Anju and Sunil are unhappy, is even more distressed when Sunil tries to kiss her. He’s been in love with his beautiful cousin-by-marriage since they first met in India. Soon, though, Sudha acquires an admirer with no strings attached: Lalit, an Indian doctor. She is more preoccupied with Anju’s unhappiness, however, not to mention her own dilemma: always the dutiful daughter, she has no professional skills and no money. Sudha tentatively begins to make an independent life while Anju starts college; then, however, Sunil seduces her and she realizes she must move out. She finds work as a live-in caregiver for an Indian family, and the cousins who once called themselves sisters are no longer on speaking terms. Not to worry: reconciliation and independence are soon in order.

Thin and disappointing, despite vivid scenes of immigrant life and recollections of home.