A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev
Leaning toward something light, frothy, and just a little steamy for your next holiday season read? While the printed page is always grand, going audible here is also highly recommended: I’m thinking Priya Ayyar is quickly becoming one of my favorite crisp voices to stick in the ears. Here she proves just how pitch-perfectly she can voice love at first sight, mutually mistaken identity, runaway lovers, meddling families, a dying mother longing to see her son one last time, and much more. Before you scoff and dismiss Sonali Dev’s debut novel as merely too much fun, you’ll find effectively solemn moments dealing with child marriage, mixed-race issues, abuse, abandonment, and mental illness to ensure this is a thought-provoking indulgence.
An Indian Air Force officer emerges from a coma with stinging first words for his younger brother: “If Rima isn’t my legal wife, that makes our child a bastard.” As a 12-year-old, Virat was wed to then 4-year-old Mili, in accordance with their village traditions. For two decades, the unlikely couple lived completely separated, never overlapping lives.
Vinat married Rima, who is about to make him a father. All would have been fine if a legal claim hadn’t surfaced demanding ownership of the family’s ancestral home. Vinat, unable to travel, dispatches his younger brother Samir to America to find his alleged bride and force her to relinquish her wifely rights.
Mili, meanwhile, insists she’s devotedly in love with her stranger husband she hasn’t seen since she wept through her so-called wedding in utter fright. Hoping to present herself as the perfect partner to an accomplished officer, she’s managed to get herself into a graduate certificate program in applied sociology at Eastern Michigan University. What her scholarship doesn’t cover, she makes up for by being the best dishwasher at Panda Kong, even managing to send enough home to support her aging grandmother.
When her roommate Ridhi runs off with her lover, Mili promises she won’t share Ridhi’s whereabouts with aggressive family members. In this mode of high alert, Samir enters Mili’s life; believing him to be one of Ridhi’s “brother-slash-cousins” hell-bent on answers, Mili attempts to flee, injuring her wrist and ankle seriously enough for an emergency room stay. Samir – out of character with his Bollywood director-slash-womanizing cad reputation – realizes he can’t abandon this damsel-slash-sort of-maybe-sister-in-law-in-distress, and becomes her not-so-temporary nursemaid.
Queue violins, oh yes, but don’t expect the melodrama to be without at least a few complicated riffs. With plenty of twisty-turny subplots to keep the pages (and tracks) moving quickly, rest assured, this Bollywood Affair does Yash Raj Chopra proud.