As the oldest son, Anil Patel should, by rights, inherit the family farm and his father's position as the local arbiter of disputes. But his father sees a different path for him, pushing him to attend college and become a doctor. And Anil has no trouble living up to this expectation. When he applies for a residency at a prestigious hospital in America and is offered a place, he knows that he is leaving the life of a rural farmer behind forever but he can't escape his role as heir to his father's reasoned and fair practice of arbitration. His struggles with adjusting to a very foreign life in Dallas, the pace and stress of his residency, and his own feelings of alienation from India and from America both, all combine to make for a tough adjustment for Anil. When his father dies and Anil has to take on the position of judge and jury that he feels so unsuited to perform, he stumbles under the weight of these inescapable expectations.
Leena, Anil's old friend from home, the girl he grew up with and who he eventually had to give up spending time with because their friendship was considered unseemly, tries to fulfill her parents' and her culture's expectations for her. She agrees to an arranged marriage and goes into this relationship wanting very much to be a good wife, good sister-in-law, and good daughter-in-law. She does her best despite her new family's appalling treatment of her, wanting to not shame her parents or become a pariah in the community.
Both Anil and Leena are shamed by their failures to live up to the standards they and outside forces have placed on them and it is only through deep soul searching, in Anil's case, and an almost tragedy in Leena's, for both of them to look at their lives and see the expectations placed on them for what they are.
This is a novel of responsibility and identity. It is a tale of not belonging and of forging your own path toward happiness. It is, above all, a story of the weight of expectations and the problems that those expectations can create. Gowda writes in a simple and straightforward way even when she is presenting issues as complex as racism, spousal abuse, interracial dating, and medical mistakes. The details about Anil's residency and the fog he exists in during this time are well drawn and extensive. The brutal reality of Leena's life is hard to read but certainly an illuminating window into some Indian women's terrible existences, from which they have little to no hope of rescue. The ending is satisfying, if a bit speedy, and Gowda avoids the easy solution for her characters, choosing to stay true to their created personalities. Those who have an interest in India and the ties that continue to bind Indian immigrants to their country of origin will find this an appealing and easy read.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the HarperCollins for sending me a copy of this book to review.