Disclaimer: As an author myself, I understand the amount of research and effort that goes into writing a book. This is in no way to undermine that effort. These are my opinions of the book. If you’ve read it and loved it, I respect that. I’d appreciate it if this respect is returned.
Plus, this post is full of spoilers, so beware if you want to read this book.
This book would probably have killed me by giving me high blood pressure. I was so pissed off with each page I turned that it took me all my strength and energy to not throw the book across the room. And I was reading it on the Kindle app on my laptop, so I know that that was a good decision.
My God this book is full of problematic characters that are full of themselves! And this is the least of our problems! Throughout the story, every single one of these characters is self-important, weak, self-righteous, and angry, and that’s such a dangerous combination to have. That’s what makes every single one of these idiotic ding-dongs of characters so annoying, I wanted to take each one of them aside and slap them senseless!
Okay, let me TRY to explain the convoluted, annoying, fecked up plot that this book has.
Sonya is a photographer and she travels the world, seeing new places, meeting new people. But her life hasn’t been a bouquet of roses and she had had to leave the only home she had known. One day, she gets a call from her mother telling her that her father is in a coma. So she goes home, where she meets her mother and two sisters after years. I don’t even know how many because in the larger dumpster fire that is this plot, that detail somehow evaporated into smoke in my brain.
Her oldest sister Marin has a successful career in tech and is married to Raj. They have a teenage daughter, Gia. Marin has turned into her father in her quest to not be like her father. The way she pressurizes Gia into doing things and not doing things made me want to jump in and whack her around the head. Every single page with Marin’s track in it infuriated me and even the mere memory of her raises my hackles.
Her middle sister, Trisha, has built a suburban life for herself and is married to the man she loves. Eric. She has issues and I understand that, but she keeps things from her husband that she really shouldn’t be keeping. She lies to him. She justifies her actions with the stupidest explanations known to humankind. She’s like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. There is just no getting around her, man!
And then there’s the mother. Goodness gracious me, what kind of a mother is she? The author tries to show her as a helpless mother crippled by circumstances into not helping her daughters escape what her husband does to them. (I’ll get to the a-hole father in a second.) Every time questions are asked of her, she tries to show her own helplessness either in her face or in words. I don’t believe that a mother would stand by and watch, especially in a country like America, when the father beats up their children. Don’t give me any explanation that says, “But she was helpless.” No mother watches like this.
Let’s finally come to Brent, the father. He is such a huge dillhole, I can’t even! He faces racism in America and he takes that out on his daughters and his wife. He ruthlessly beats them up and taunts them, causing them to become the people they have become. He tells Sonya she shouldn’t have been born at all, that they should have aborted her when they had the chance, that when he had accepted that they were going to have a baby, he had hoped that she’d be a boy. He tells them that he gave up everything in India and moved to America so that they could have a good life. Trisha is the only one he treats well because she looks like him a little. This is why I get annoyed with Trisha as well. I can understand her remaining silent as a kid when she watched Brent beat up her mother and her sisters. But even after growing up, she stays quiet and almost blames Sonya for leaving. As if she didn’t know what went down.
But how much ever of an idiot Trisha was, I do not appreciate the fact that the author used Brent raping her on the night of Marin’s wedding as a plot point that explained away her not wanting to have kids. How shitty is it that something like that is used towards the end of the book to try and wrap things up? That Trisha’s pain was conveniently forgotten. That their mother didn’t even know about it. That Sonya, while knowing it, remained silent over the years for reasons that seem so flimsy as you get through the book. Reading it all is a major pain because of how ridiculous it all sounds.
Oh, and Marin? She forces Gia to join extra classes, has issues with her dating guys, puts her on a strict schedule, scolds her for every single thing, and basically treats her the way Brent father treated her. And then she wonders how Gia got closer to Raj and gets jealous of this fact. I had foolishly hoped that when Gia gets into an abusive relationship, Marin gets some sense knocked into her and treats her like a daughter instead of as a pet project. But nope. It just goes to show that her issues are not only external. They’re internal too. Sure, the internal issues were caused by external factors. But how problematic does she have to be to project them onto someone else? In trying to not be like her father, she becomes exactly him.
No, see, I understand where the author is coming from when she wrote these characters and I know that these problems are probably exactly what she is trying to show us exist. But nope man. I just cannot.
Moreover, accompanying these heavily flawed, irritating characters is the writing. It can be called beautiful in places but it is so filled with melodrama that I felt like shredding anything to pieces. I know how Indian families can be melodramatic to the point of doling out threats, but this was unbelievable! And that’s something, coming from someone who calls herself ‘The Melodramatic Bookworm’.
And then there is the underlying thread throughout that calls a woman out for not “performing her duty”. For not having children. There’s one sentence that pissed me off even more: “But she rejected the one thing that promised her everything – a child.” First of all, a child is not the be all and end all of life. Sure, once one becomes a parent things change. But to think that having a baby is the only thing that a woman needs to aspire to and that it is the only thing that will give her everything is foolish and backward.
My biggest complaint about this book: The sermonizing that the author does from beginning to end. My god the number of times she starts with quotable quotes! I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time she started a sentence like this. “”Fear is a weird thing” or “There is darkness in light” or “We need to understand childhood”. You don’t have to do that every time you want to describe a character’s feelings. I don’t want the flow of the story to be interrupted by unnecessary sermonizing. It’s just plain annoying and I later have to rack my brains to try and figure out what was going on. It is these explanations and sermons that destroyed the book for me. Without this, I could probably have accepted the characters as flawed people and moved on. Appreciated the book, even. But that was not to be.
There are a bunch of other issues I had with the book. I’m listing them out here:
– The father is called Brent. A Hindu family from Gujarat was okay with naming their son after a friend from the West? That’s taking it too far.
– Gulab jambu? Hellooooo! It’s called gulab jamun. You’re supposed to be Indian, for God’s sake. Okay, even if you didn’t know it, a basic Google search would have told you what it is actually called. Is it so below you to look it up once? And this is just a small example. The author tries to show India as an unhappy place, a place from where people crave to escape. Just like Jeanine Cummins did to Mexico in American Dirt.
– Repetitive to the point where I just went “Oh God, please make it stop, please, please, please!” How many times can you hear the introspection being put into words and still not roll your eyes? “It’s because of this that I act like this.” or “This takes me back to when my father used to hit me.” Oh goodness gracious me, stop!
I haven’t hated a book this much in such a long time especially because it makes me so angry that I was so excited about it when I bought it and now I’m sitting in the dumps, trying to figure out what happened. I just… I would never wish this book on anyone. Never.
Rating: 1/5 stars
Picture Courtesy: Goodreads