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The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
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The Bollywood Bride

by Sonali Dev

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943128,437 (3.23)4

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Just say No.

Two things you need to know first of all. I like romance, although I wouldn't count myself an expert. I'm a huge fan of classic so-called (often misnamed) "sentimental" literature, and an even bigger fan of outright melodrama, which usually makes your average romance novel look like the paradigm of realistic plotting and complex characterization. I am also a compulsive completionist. I've suffered through some dreadful shite in terms of writing (Pamela) and movies (Armageddon, Attack of the Clones). Even when I've wanted to put the book down or leave the film, I feel I "owe" it to the book or film to finish it.

I wanted to quit this book about a third of the way through, and then finally gave up about 2/3 of the way through. I simply reached the point where I realized there were too many other awesome books out there in the world to bother finishing this dire effort.

I did appreciate some of the things this author was trying to achieve. The evocation of Indian and Indian-American traditions felt real and helped to highlight some of those ridiculous and hilarious family moments many would recognize. And the overall goal here, to incorporate abuse as a plot element is a bold move, especially for a genre that often none-too-subtly celebrates elements of rape culture. And there were numerous instances where beautiful turns of phrase gave me a hint of what this book could have been.

It is hard for me to figure out if Dev's ambitions simply outran her abilities for this project. Because a big problem with this book is a problem it shares with much published writing: lack of meaningful editing. Meaningful editing means an editor not simply concerning herself with stylistic correctness but instead standing up to the writer and telling them when they are writing crap.

Genre relies in large part on formula, of course. But formula is not the same as cliche. In Dev's book the heroine naturally has large, well-developed breasts, the hero has six-pack abs, and sex is extravagant and wildly improbable, but all of it is described with images that you've read a hundred times before. Dev praises her editor extravagantly in a foreword, but she might want to consider firing him or her. A good editor would have pointed out the difference between adhering to genre conventions and writing in cliches.

A good editor would also have pointed out that it is not necessary for your main character to articulate the same thought several times in the same chapter (there is a stunning amount of repetition in this book).

Probably the greatest difficulty the novel faces is that its characterization undermines the goal of talking about physical and psychological abuse and the damage that that can wreak on an individual. Characters in romance are often deliberately exaggerated, but exaggerated in a way that their actions and motivations are still recognizably plausible. This what makes us identify with them, and care about them. But Ria is highly implausible on a number of levels. People in general (and even more so people who have suffered some kind of trauma) are often highly conflicted. More importantly, for plausible characterization, our thought processes are often ambiguous to ourselves. We may deliberately or unconsciously ignore elements of our past, think we are being rational when we aren't, etc. But what is so striking (and annoying) about Ria is that every single aspect of her motivation and rationalization is fully present to herself at all times. She may appear contradictory and ambiguous to other characters, but not to herself. So she just doesn't come across as someone who has credibly been traumatized.

What we are left with is cheap external indicators of trauma, such as Ria's tendency to go on long runs when upset (despite there being no evidence that she is a regular runner or has any interest in it). These are simply a gimmick to show that she is "troubled" and, of course, to have one of them end with the hero having to carry her injured self back home in his brawny arms.

But the entire set-up also fails in terms of credibility. Ria's family, friends, and even Vikram (despite the tensions of their past history) never, ever come across as the kind of people who would not, ultimately, be supportive if she were ever forced to reveal the secrets of her past.

I wanted this to be a good romance. It made it onto several "best of" lists last year, which is where I saw it. But it is instead a thoroughly derivative, repetitive, cliched piece of romance that, at minimum, needed a good editor to provide some badly needed guidance and judgment. ( )
  BornAnalog | Jul 4, 2016 |
Ria is a big Bollywood star, but she is haunted by trauma in her past, and has not been able to open herself up to anyone since Vikram, the man she left behind in Chicago ten years ago, for what she believed was his own good. But now she has to return to Chicago for her cousin's wedding, and it becomes impossible to avoid seeing him, and rekindling her feelings for him, once again.

This book has a number of things going for it. The writing, while flawed in a few places, is generally pretty good, and certainly very readable. The main character felt fairly real to me, in all her complex misery. The ending was pleasantly sweet. And the portrayal of Ria's extended Indian family was so well-done and so immersive that I almost felt like part of it -- which is a nice trick, considering that my knowledge all things Indian is embarrassingly small.

The thing is... Well, whatever else this book may be, it is at its core a fairly conventional romance novel, something I wasn't entirely aware of when I started it. And, as I concluded the last time I made an attempt to read romance, it's really just not my genre. Among other things, there's a point in here where I suddenly felt like the love interest was behaving the way he was not because it made sense, but because it was the point in some formula where he was supposed to make that particular kind of change. And then came the sex scenes, which -- while decently written and mercifully free of "throbbing manhood"s or other such nonsense -- felt more than a bit clichéd to me. Meaning that for a while my suspension of disbelief snapped, I found it hard to keep thinking of these characters as people and not characters, and I lost interest in the story entirely. I did mostly get it back after a while, fortunately. But, once again, I think I'm not the best audience for this sort of thing. I suspect that for people who enjoy the conventions of the romance genre and are looking for something with a bit of substance, it's likely to have a great deal of appeal.

Rating: It's always hard to rate a book in this kind of situation. I want to go with my own reaction, but it seems unfair to penalize it for being part of a genre I don't happen to like. Let's call it 3.5/5. ( )
  bragan | Jun 24, 2016 |
I'm a sucker for all things Bollywood so I was pretty stoked to try out this book, while it wasn't what I was initially expecting, it wasn't half bad. Rai Parker is Bollywood's favorite star, nicknamed "the ice queen" she is known to stay out of the spotlight and is never in the gossip columns for lewd behavior. She may not be happy, but she's been running from her past for ten years and is currently hiding in plain sight. All that changes though when she gets a call from her beloved cousin who asks her to come back home for his wedding. She can't refuse him so she must go back to Chicago to wrestle with the memories of her past. When she arrives the first thing she sees is the man whose heart she broke, and she instantly feels guilty and is on edge. She becomes even more alarmed when she realizes that he too is staying at her auntie's house and that she'll be in close proximity to him for ten days. He wants answers and she wants to hide. My favorite thing about this book is the desi-ness, the terms of endearment, customs, and food. While I wasn't in love with either of the main characters (both of which are flawed), I was able to look past that and enjoy most of the book. ( )
  ecataldi | Mar 16, 2016 |
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