A Good Indian Wife
by Anne Cherian

W.W. Norton & Company, 2008. ISBN 978-0-393-06523-7.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 08/21/2008

Fiction: Romance; Fiction: Multi-Cultural

Anesthesiologist Neel Sarath has it made. A successful Indian-American doctor with a home in San Francisco, an expensive car, and a tall blonde girlfriend he wants to marry, he only has to get his traditional family to accept her. His mother calls from India to say his beloved grandfather has taken a turn for the worse. Neel returns to his homeland to pay his last respects and returns with an Indian wife he doesn't want.

Leila Krishnan is an English teacher from Neel's village in Southern India. When the Saraths approach the Krishnans to propose an arranged marriage, the Krishnans are thrilled at the prospect of their old-maid daughter marrying an American doctor. But Leila is soon disappointed with her new life. Her husband's great house is "a barren flat," he works long hours and he refuses to touch her. Being married to Neel proves even more difficult than adjusting to life in the United States.

Can Neel and Leila make an arranged marriage work in modern American society? Can they live peacefully together without knowing if they have anything in common? Will Neel even give Leila a chance?

Anne Cherian's novel A Good Indian Wife explores what it's like to be a new Indian-American. Neel forsakes anything Indian while his fellow Indian doctor Sanjay incorporates Indian culture into his everyday life. Is one's culture something deeper than the practices of those around them? Neel is a bundle of contradictions. He marries Leila to honor his grandfather, yet planned to divorce her as soon as the old man died. He claimed not to care about his family's desires, yet he didn't marry the blonde girlfriend because he knew they would disapprove. Why can't Neel escape his Indian past?

A Good Indian Wife is engaging and thought provoking, a combination of India and America, tradition and modernity, oneness and individuality. I couldn't put this book down.

Anne Cherian was born and raised in Jamshedpur, India. She graduated from Bombay and Bengalore Universities and received masters degrees in journalism and comparative journalism from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Los Angeles.

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