Saturday, 21 November 2015

Review: The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma

3 stars

The Rearranged Life by Annika Sharma was...fine. It certainly wasn't a page-turner, but it neither was it tedious. Perhaps it is most accurate to say that I wasn't a fan of The Rearranged Life as a New Adult romance novel, but that I did appreciate it as an exploration of cultural conflict.

Nithya hasn't ever really considered breaking out of the mould her Indian parents and culture have created for her. She's not quite sure if she chose pre-med of her own accord, or if it was simply the most palatable of the acceptable options for an good Indian child, but she's committed to becoming a doctor. She hasn't thought overmuch about marriage, but she always assumed that it would be semi-arranged. After all, someone outside her culture could never entirely understand or accept her Telugu-speaking Brahmin family, and this would ultimately lead to conflict. Then Nithya meets James at university, and suddenly images of a different life worm their way into her mind.

The Rearranged Life is not actually a book about Nithya and James so much as it is what Nithya thinks about her relationship with James. The romance between the two was very low-key and completely chaste, and James himself remains more a nebulous symbol of white America than a fully-fledged character in his own right. As Nithya internally explored her options, she rehashed the same things over and over again: He'll never understand my world, I have to think of the unity of the family over myself, I don't want to rock the boat. 

When Nithya's internal debate worked, it worked well. She had a strong voice that demonstrated the difficulties navigating two worlds and two sets of norms and expectations. As another character says, first-generation Indian-Americans "have to be as Indian as the people in India and as American as the Americans" (loc. 650). Nithya doesn't know if, by bringing James home, she will alienate her parents and community, thus also losing the part of herself that values those connections. And the tricky thing is, she will never know unless she actually does it. So, even if I found the writing a bit repetitive at times, I accept that maybe that's the point: Nithya's not just reminding the reader of her situation, she's reminding herself of the stakes. 

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