Thursday, June 13, 2024

Review: The Curious Secrets of Yesterday by Namrata Patel

We've all felt the weight of expectations. Some expectations are heavier than others. Some are very small things while others affect your whole life and its trajectory. Some people rise to meet expectations. Some revolt against them. And some chafe against them quietly, wondering how to live life on their own terms no matter what the expectations on them are. This latter group of people includes the main character of Namrata Patel's newest novel, The Curious Secrets of Yesterday.

Tulsi Gupta is in her thirties. She lives with her mother and grandmother in Salem, Massachusetts. The Gupta women run a spice shop and practice Ayurvedic healing, tracing their family lineage back to the Vedic Hindu Goddess of Earth, Dharti. Tulsi's grandmother Aruna started the shop and her mother, Devi, has taken over most of the running of it. Both older women are waiting for Tulsi to take her final test as a spice healer and assume her rightful place, taking over from her mother. The problem is that Tulsi doesn't want to be a spice healer. She wants no part of this family tradition and has no idea how to tell her mother and grandmother the truth: that she feels stuck and wants out, out of the store and out of Salem. So instead of admitting these feelings, Tulsi maintains the status quo, quietly unhappy. But change comes to people's lives whether they seek it out or not and change is barreling down on Tulsi. She uncovers evidence of a major family secret, the new cafe next door has a very attractive chef/owner, and an anonymously run social media account first catapults the Gupta's store into the spotlight and then notoriety. All of these things pile up, forcing Tulsi, Devi, and Aruna into some hard reckonings.

The cover of this book suggests to the reader that this is going to be a lighthearted story, and in many ways it is, but it also tackles some difficult topics like abandonment, lies, and devastating family secrets. Tulsi, as a character, struggles to find herself because of her instinct to be a caretaker and a mediator, to defend her mother and grandmother, even when their choices are indefensible and have caused her pain or to miss out on things in her life. It is painful to watch Tulsi stifle her own needs and wants for so long and the constant repetition of her unhappiness with the expectations placed on her in the first part of the book does wear thin. (I'm obviously not as patient and understanding as Tulsi.) The beginning of the story also contains many explanations of Ayurvedic healing, perhaps trying to make the concept more accessible to an unfamiliar audience but it felt much more than necessary and slowed the pace of the story down. As the story progressed, this became less of an issue though as it focused more on the characters and the plot. The romance subplot stays fairly lowkey centering Tulsi finding herself as the focus of the story so don't go into this thinking it is a romance. It's not. There might be a touch too many plot threads here: a family curse dooming the Gupta women to single motherhood, Ayurvedic healing and the role of spices in it, complex family dynamics, a budding romance, the mystery of Tulsi's father, the mystery of grandmother Aruna's rift with a former friend, the rewards and perils of social media, and a coming of age to name a few. The novel needed to either focus tighter, eliminating some of these, or go into more depth to make them all equally relevant to the story. Even with the busy-ness of the plot though, ultimately this was a warm and pleasing novel that makes for a different and generally likable, happily ever after summer read.

Thanks to Amazon for sending me this book to review.

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