Monday, 29 February 2016

Snarky Humour, Lovable Protagonist: Only Wheat Not White by Varsha Dixit

Let me confess that I began reading Only Wheat Not White by Varsha Dixit with a lot of prejudice. Prejudice #1 - the genre. I am not a fan of romance, and the amount of mushiness and the forced happy endings drive me crazy. Prejudice #2 - the title. 'Only Wheat Not White' sounded too racist, too unsophisticated. But as I read, I enjoyed Dixit's writing. The snarky humour and the descriptions of Eila's clumsiness endeared me to the protagonist Eila Sood. In this month's 'romance-themed' reading challenge, this is in fact the one I enjoyed the most. 

Plot summary

Eila Sood has come on a six-month working stint to USA with an agenda of trying to reconcile her estranged family. Her sister Sheela married Steve, a Caucasian, against the wishes of her family. Eila has been sent to the USA with the clear instructions that she should not fall in love with any white man. Her mother makes her swear on "only wheat, not white". But on reaching the US, she realises that all is not well with her sister's marriage. At the same time, she starts falling for Brett Wright, a Caucasian with blue eyes who she bumps into at different points of her stay there. It is but natural to the genre that Eila and Brett must fall hopelessly in love and dare to go against her parents' wishes, and Eila should help solve some of the problems that exist in Sheela's life. 


I loved Eila Sood. A very believable character: gauche but hard-working and sincere, interfering but slightly scared about making decisions for herself... and a wonderful sense of humour that sustains the reading. In fact, descriptions of her constant gaucherie are what I loved the best about the book. Brett's character is not properly fleshed out. We predominantly hear Eila's voice, with Brett's POV getting just a few lines edgewise. The mother and the father, though, have not been given distinguishable personalities. There has been some effort in drawing interesting sketches of Sheela and Steve, but the impact isn't enough. All the effort has gone towards creating Eila. 

Problem areas

I have a few problems with Only Wheat Not White. #1 - Constant reference to Brett Wright as "the ogre" put me off. I don't think I got enough time to like him as Eila's potential lover. #2 - with a title that directly referred to racial problems between the Caucasian and the Indian, I expected a little bit of confrontation with the parents. Especially because the parents are present throughout the book as strong background characters. I also don't think the story does justice to the story of Sheela and Steve either - for example, how is it that they had never tried to sort their differences until Eila came over? 

I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway 2 by The Book Club.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Book Review: Or Forever Hold Your Peace by Donna Abraham

Or Forever Hold Your Peace by Donna Abraham is a simple tale of 27-year-old Malayali SMRC Catholic girl and her attempts at finding a Mr. Right. The unnamed protagonist-cum-narrator tells us her experiences with the customs around arranged marriages, with special reference to Kerala and the Christian community.

The story contains a lot of information about the wedding formalities in a typical SMRC family. It also included a lot of Malayali ideology surrounding wedding. It was all familiar to me and was quite my home turf.

However, the reading was bland because of the lack of dialogues. The entire narration, as well as the protagonist, was completely passive and impassionate. I could not entirely sympathise with either the situations or the lead characters. Zaka and Aryan’s characters are unidimensional – I couldn’t even imagine them as fully developed characters, but more as stereotypes. Even the protagonist’s mother and Zaka’s mother hardly had any individuality. The protagonist’s father, however, did come out as a decently fleshed-out character.

I thought it was weird to have a protagonist without a name. But then again, it could have been any woman, living the conventional life of a Malayali Syro Malabar Roman Catholic, with its traditions and customs and orthodoxy.

Certain threads are left unfinished. Why did the author have to put in juicy questions about Zaka and his mother’s Kerala visits and property sale if she had no intention of telling us about it eventually? The weirdest part, though, was the ending. It was so abrupt that until the penultimate paragraph I was wondering how the story could end.

I finished the book in less than a day, and I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Note: I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway by The Book Club.

Monday, 15 February 2016

A Mushy Romance for Light Reading: The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman

The Madras Affair by Sundari Venkatraman is a mushy romance perfect for light reading. It was a quick and simple read, and combined romance with high-drama, full of pointless vituperations. I liked the way the author brought alive the mind of the protagonist Sangita to the reader.
Sangita is a widow with a little son whose mean husband dies in a drunken bike accident. She picks up the pieces and starts living with her parents, but her parents are orthodox about widowhood to the point of malice against Sangita. Gautam meets Sangita at the hospital where she works and instantly falls in love with her. Sangita reciprocates the feeling, but she’s bogged down by her vile parents and her own inhibitions against physical intimacy. The story unfolds how these two obstacles are overcome.

Since the book begins with a happy ending, it was impossible to expect anything else from the story. The ups and downs, the possible problems, were all anticipated by the established behaviours of Sangita’s parents and her own inhibitions after a disastrous marriage.
Gautam’s character did not endear himself to me. His anger at Sangita in the initial days of their relationship was unjustified and demanding. Though he invoked trust and charisma, I couldn’t imagine myself being able to talk to him without him snarling back at me. Slightly self-centred, and unthinking of others’ circumstances. Also, his love for Sangita was an intention to possess, irrespective of how Sangita felt. Sometimes I found myself thinking if the author had moulded Gautam into a typical male character as she was not sure how men react in certain situations. Even a “forward” woman like me found it difficult to accept that Gautam expected physical passion from Sangita within two days of being acquainted. But maybe we can blame his American upbringing for that? However, he improved once he heard the story of Sangita’s first marriage, and turned into a perfectly accommodating person.
Sangita’s character, on the other hand, was very sympathisable. I could totally understand her fears and the situation. Her brother Raghavan and his wife Rekha, the ones who support Sangita and Gautam’s relationship, are also likeable characters. Sandeep, Sandita’s son is a perspicacious child and one feels glad that Sangita has such a good son. Even the small character of Rakesh, Sangita’s second brother, is believable. However, her parents are orthodoxy personified. Which is okay, believable. But the way their approval was obtained for Gautam and Sangita’s marriage was quite unbelievable. I know some such orthodox parents, but I know for sure that they wouldn’t have agreed to the method Gopal and Radha chose. To know what that is, go read the book!
The writing is uncomplicated and the narrative straightforward. There are also erotic descriptions for those who care for it. All in all, a one-time quickie read!

Note: I received this book as part of the Tornado Giveaway by The Book Club.