A debut novel tells the story of three friends growing into themselves across two timelines.
Hyderabad, India, 1987: 16-year-old Kate McKenna is on an eight-week trip with her friends Nasreen Abdel, a Muslim, and Krishna Desai, a Hindu. On the cusp of adulthood, the three Americans are acutely aware of their new sexuality, particularly as the older women of Nasreen’s family attempt to arrange marriages for the next generation. Nasreen is heartbroken by the fact that her beloved cousin is about to get married and ashamed that she slept with him not long before finding out. Kate, whose own mother is dead and who feels disconnected from her family, finds herself drawn to another of Nasreen’s cousins, the adventurous Tariq. Cut to Chicago, 1998: Kate, now a 27-year-old graduate student, has recently been dumped by her boyfriend and is beginning to regret the decisions she’s made in her life. Nasreen is married but has found out she can’t have children, and she is plagued by the trauma of a sexual assault that she’s kept hidden for years. Krishna doubts her decision to go to medical school even before her doctor mother slips into a coma and is also coming into a sexuality much different than that of her friends. In chapters alternating between the timelines, the three girls—and three women—attempt to navigate love, family, tradition, and independence while remaining true to themselves and one another. The story is told from Kate’s perspective, and it is through her outsider’s eyes that the reader encounters the Indian culture of Hyderabad; Karachi, Pakistan; and the immigrant community in Chicago. Malany writes in a lush, detailed prose that captures Kate’s wonder: “The older women were already surrounded by flowing waves of silk and chiffon as the shop owners spun bolt after bolt in a fly-fishing motion. Each bolt of material streamed in a wave of illuminated elegance.” While Malany does not completely nail the two-timeline structure—the 1998 sections suck most of the mystery and urgency out of the 1987 parts—the friendship of Kate, Nasreen, and Krishna is well drawn and genuinely affecting.
An uneven but engaging tale of cross-cultural bonds.