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Friday, February 18, 2011

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Faharad Zama

An absolutely delightful book set in Southeast India, in the town known as Visag (also, a gorgeous cover). Mr. Ali has retired and decided to open up a business in his home arranging marriages, with predictable if enjoyable results. Zama's writing sometimes was too much telling and not enough showing, but still engaging (especially the linguistics -- some of the turns of phrase and syntax appeared to be influenced by Zama's native/first tongue, and were fun to read) (this is not a translation, by the way, Zama lives in England and wrote in English). And while some people probably would not enjoy the info dumps, I really liked learning about different aspects of Indian culture, particularly the Muslim and Hindu marriage rites (and the fact that a love marriage, rather than an arranged marriage, is scandalous). Which leads to one of the first things I noticed -- at least in that part of the world, not only do Muslims, Hindus, and Christians live together in relative peace, Zama shows that in fact they have a lot of the same values and beliefs; something I think we all need reminding of.

This is light, romantic fiction, so of course by the end all problems are solved, differences are overcome, and couples live happily ever after. But always present underneath that are the realities of Indian social problems -- the undue importance the caste system holds for some, the poverty were chicken is a luxury and it is perfectly normal for a family to share one bed in a one-room home, the callously brutal way some widows are treated, the problems balancing economic and technological advances with traditions and the rights of the people. This all stayed in the background for the most part, with the main characters saying all the right things, but for me at least it helped keep this book from becoming too saccharine, too much of a fantasy.

Zama appears to have written two more books about Mr. Ali's bureau, but they have not yet been published in the States. I eagerly await them, and in the meantime, I need to eat more Indian food.

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