REVIEW: Monsoon Wedding Fever by Shoma Narayanan
Dear Mrs Narayanan,
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first offerings from Harlequin Indian writers and was psyched when Jane told Sunita and me that she had a copy of your first book “Monsoon Wedding Fever.” But just to support the effort, I bought my own copy when it became available at Harlequin.com last month. Overall, I’m glad I read it though the review will probably sound otherwise.
Riya Kumar and Dhruv Malhotra had a budding romance twelve years ago in college but suddenly Dhruv pulled back and cut things off. Heartbroken then, Riya has not sat on a shelf all these years though she’s never quite found a man to match him despite several interested suitors and marriage offers. Now he’s back in her life since his cousin, who’s worked and roomed with Riya for a year, is getting married. Unaware of their past, Gaurav forgot to mention to Riya that Dhruv would be staying with them and it’s only when she trips over him on her way in from a night out that Riya discovers Dhruv will be back in her life – even if only for a few days.
Initially sure she can handle being close again to Dhruv, Riya soon realizes that he’s far more tempting than she wants to admit. Meanwhile Dhruv, who is sure he doesn’t believe in marrying for love after living with the example of his feuding parents all his life, is determined to catch up with the wonderful creature Riya has become. They might try to fight their attraction for each other but ultimately, they know it’s impossible. Still, with Riya set on marrying only a man who will love her unconditionally and Dhruv certain that he can’t be this man, is there any hope for their future together?
I enjoy the Harlequin Romance line because often the stories are set outside the US and the main characters, though sometimes well off or even wealthy, are usually fairly low key about social status. The detail of the setting of the book – mainly in Mumbai and Kolkata – plus the emphasis on Indian characters is all I could want plus a bag of crisps. I won’t lie and say I completely grasp all the different social, regional and marital customs going on here but I loved the hell out of reading about them, adding to my understanding and bookmarking tons of stuff I want to investigate and dig into online. This is why I seek out books centered on cultures and countries different than my own. I appreciate that you don’t “dumb it down” and do the dreaded repeating in English what a character just said in another language or bring the action to a ear screeching halt while you info dump. Instead the general gist is enough to fill in the blanks for those of us just learning, keep the story moving and add to the richness and texture of what you’re conveying to us. Well done.
What doesn’t work as well for me is the romance. Riya and Dhruv have a past which zooms them past awkward intros and straight into Romance Issues Destined to Keep Them Apart. Riya doesn’t want to go through any more heartache so is set on keeping her distance from Dhruv. Then doesn’t. Dhruv has told his parents that he’s agreeable to making an arranged marriage so wants to keep keep his distance from and hurting Riya. Then doesn’t. Resolutions are made and broken – often on the same page and definitely within the same scene. She won’t give in. Then does. He won’t seek her out. Then does. She wants a man who’ll be devoted to her while he doesn’t believe in love. It can never be, we must keep our distance but we just can’t. Repeat for most of the book. My eyes were starting to hurt from rolling so much due to the number of times both of them decide to stay far, far away from each other only to fall into each other’s arms and be kissing one paragraph later. Let’s just say the romance isn’t why I kept on reading the story.
It’s too bad that I found myself getting annoyed with the “we won’t touch” declarations that – of course – are immediately broken because their feelings are just so strong. Rinse, repeat. So much of the romance part of the book kept falling into Ye Olde Standard character actions and motivations. It was very disappointing. The background stuff here is the bomb and I like how it adds nuances and layers to the story which would be difficult to get otherwise. I am excited that Harlequin is expanding into this new arena and will keep my eyes open for more offerings from Indian authors. C
At first I thought you’d reviewed the movie Monsoon Wedding. I love that film!
Thanks for the book review. I think I’ll pick this one up.
@wikkidsexycool: Oh it is easy to confuse the titles which perhaps was the point in picking this one. I actually reviewed the movie here a few years ago.
I was pretty much in paroxysms of glee over all of the cultural stuff in the book (though a few of the random references seemed too western to be authentic to Riya and Dhruv’s lexicon), and that almost trumped the actual romance for me. I’m just so hungry for contemporary stories set in India that aren’t the typical Presents, or that feature solely biracial characters, it made me extra giddy that Harlequin brought Narayanan over from Mills & Boon UK with a global release.
Great review, Jayne! I had much the same reaction as you. Like Suleikha, I thought the cultural stuff was very well done and offered insights you don’t get in books by people outside the society, but the romance didn’t work that well. Still, it’s an auspicious beginning for M&B/Harlequin, as my grandmother used to say. Here’s to more and better of the type.
Sounds promising. I’ll get it tonight.
P.S. I want the outfit she’s wearing on the cover. I can’t tell if it’s a sari or a lengha but it looks beautiful.
@Little Red: It’s a lehnga! On the bigger version of the cover, you can tell that what’s draped over her shoulder is a dupatta and not attached.
Yeah, I SO want that outfit, too.
@Suleikha Snyder: You beat me to the answer which I’d just finished looking up. ;)
@Jayne: Oops! Sorry, Jayne. ;) So glad you read and reviewed the book!
@Jayne: If you’re interested in reading an Indian romance, you should try Anuja Chauhan. I would categorize her book more as chick- lit than romance but the characters are very well written, the heroes irresistible and the cultural nuances are depicted well and authentically. The Zoya Factor by her is a favourite of mine.
“I appreciate that you don’t “dumb it down” and do the dreaded repeating in English what a character just said in another language”
I’m only two chapters in but the writer seems to be doing this so does it change later on in the book?
@Little Red: Mostly she doesn’t. She uses Indian-language words and for the most part doesn’t translate them immediately but uses the context to help explain what they mean. There are a few more places where she repeats, but not many.
ETA: I meant to say, the author changes strategies after the first couple of chapters. You’re right that she repeats in the beginning, but then there is less of that.
Read your review and as usual loved it.The concept of Mills&Boon is not new to the Indian society but we have always associated them with the western culture. Now, since the Indian set up is being added to the same format of romance, it would take some time to gauge the feelings of the readers. How much to add and how much to keep under cover is still to be understood since Mills&Boon are read even by the youngsters in India.
It’s true that the characters went through a lot of contradictions and sometimes within the same page. But then wasn’t that the soul of the story? She was in love and did not know about his feelings. Wasn’t that representing the turmoil in her heart?
What I found most laudable in the entire story was the way cultural references was intertwined in the story, the boldness of premarital sex and the sensitivity of Dhruv towards Riya’s parents. On the whole loved the story.
I’m looking forward to watching the discovery process. Can anyone tell me how well this book is going over in India? And when more Indian centered M&B books will be released?
A new one ‘Falling for a Bollywood Legend’ by Mahi Jay will be released soon. The ones released before Shoma Narayanna’s were ‘Love Asana’ by Milan Vohra, ‘His Monsoon Bride’ by Astha Atray to name a few. But Shoma’s was the first one to be globalised.
I am yet to get the copy of the other books but the reviews have been good from the age group of 16 – 60 :)