MADRAS ON RAINY DAYS

Samina Ali, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $24 (309p) ISBN 978-0-374-19562-5

In this painstakingly detailed but strained debut, Ali explores the stifling world of Indian Muslim domestic life and the odd partnership forged by husband and wife in an arranged marriage fraught with secrets. As the novel begins, Layla, a 20-something Muslim who grew up mostly in the United States, is preparing for her marriage in Hyderabad, India, to Sameer, a man she barely knows. The elaborate ceremonies leading up to the wedding day are undercut by Layla's memories of her secret American boyfriend and by her painful cramps as she suffers through a prolonged miscarriage. Family tensions also mount—Layla's bitter divorced mother rails at her father, who has remarried—but Layla soldiers on, eventually warming to Sameer, a good-looking engineer with modern ideas of his own. After the wedding, the young couple grow steadily closer, but Layla is unable to coax Sameer to consummate the marriage. At first she thinks she is to blame, but on their honeymoon trip to Madras, she learns differently from an unexpected visitor. As Ali shows, it is not only American-raised Muslims who are seduced by Western ideals of independence and romantic love; in the end, Sameer and Layla make a complex, unconventional peace. Striving laudably for subtlety, but never quite managing to achieve a natural rhythm, Ali loses her readers with earnest, stilted conversation and exposition. At the novel's climax, the introduction of yet another weighty but insufficiently digested theme—Hindu-Muslim violence—gives the tale an extra edge of darkness. Author appearances in New York and San Francisco. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 01/05/2004
Release date: 01/01/2004
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Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4299-3079-6
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