Ritu Bhatal’s Marriage Unarranged has been on my radar for quite some time. This debut novel is in a genre I don’t normally read, but its international flavors and promises to visit cultural norms I’m not used to interests me.
Besides, I’ve followed Bhatal’s blog for some time, and I trust her craft enough to give this a whirl!
Author: Ritu Bhatal
Marriage Unarranged is billed as “chickpea lit,” which in and of itself attracted me. I can dig a good pun.
An arranged marriage falls apart, causing Aashi to go on a semi-spiritual journey to discover what comes next for her. The book is a contemporary about a woman who must deal with the difficulties of being a woman of Indian descent who has been “shamed” by a broken engagement.
I always feel happy when my expectations are met in a good way – and Marriage Unarranged did that! Many times when I read books about non-English speaking cultures (or cultures that didn’t used to speak English, which is what I think India is now), authors assume too much of the reader’s prior knowledge. Either Bhatal got the right amount of beta readers or she’s a natural at leading someone to understand situations, because rarely did I feel like I needed more information about how the characters were processing their issues. I think I learned a lot of Hindi words, and I definitely learned more about modern India than I knew before!
In addition, the story itself gets off to a fast start. You don’t have to build up a relationship between Aashi and Ravi very long before you get to the inciting event. That drew me in quickly despite romance and contemporary not being my preferred genres.
I also enjoyed some of the secondary characters like spunky Kiran and Bali (who reminds me of my own brother). The various relationships explored in this book really did show many facets of Indian culture and what sorts of things might not be acceptable in the society: things like dating on your own, or how women are mistreated for a man’s mistakes. Kiran and Bali (as well as another couple that I won’t spoil because it’s theoretically not obvious) served as a great foil for the other romantic relationships because of how they are perceived compared to others.
Something that I could complain about a little was the story with Ravi. I thought some of the characters in that storyline were moustache-twirling levels of evil, and that just doesn’t do it for me. They weren’t very nuanced, and I wasn’t entirely convinced I needed all the information given to decide if Ravi was a good match for Aashi or not.
And, last, the book was very hopeful. Babaji (their God) was always there for them, and it was uplifting even during the harder parts. There were more places than I would have liked where a grammar error or weird wording could have been fixed, but it doesn’t change the fact that I enjoyed reading this travel/romance/contemporary more than I usually do with those genres.
5/5 Discoball Snowcones
This book is so easy to spoil because it’s romance, essentially, and you don’t want to know beforehand who gets together with who. I strongly suggest you don’t continue reading if you don’t want that sort of thing spoiled.
I thought this book had a great theme of restoration and new beginnings. At one point, the group of young people (eventually all lovers, haha!) go to the Golden Temple to do sewa, a sort of ritual baptism. After that cleansing is done, the characters all seem to have a new lease on life and start a new journey – even though they’re on a journey as it is. I liked that symbolic shift.
Honestly, this book is pretty literary. There’s a lot of comments on English and Indian culture without bashing either (though there is some bashing of dirtiness). It looked at someone caught in between things culturally, romantically, and financially. If there’s anything that makes this book, it’s the themes, symbols, and metaphors.
It’s a new month! Stay tuned!