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A Good Indian Wife    by Anne Cherian order for
Good Indian Wife
by Anne Cherian
Order:  USA  Can
W. W. Norton, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Surneel 'Neel' Sarath is quite content with his San Francisco lifestyle - he works as an anesthesiologist at the hospital, has a condo with a superb view of the Golden Gate bridge, and a blonde, blue-eyed American girlfriend (a secretary at the hospital named Caroline). He resists his mother's ongoing blandishments to return to India for a visit, knowing that she hopes to send him back to America with a good Indian wife instead of the perfect American woman he hopes to win.

Leila Krishnan teaches English literature in 'a small, out-of-the-way Indian town', adores her sisters Indira and Kila, and composes rhymed stories about cats while waiting for her parents to find her a suitable husband, despite her lack of dowry. To her mother's dismay, Leila is thirty, tall, tainted by a youthful mistake, and still single. Then Surneel's family applies emotional blackmail (his Grandfather's cancer) to bring him back home and force him to meet at least one candidate for an arranged marriage. To both his and Leila's great surprise - and Grandfather's joy - they end up husband and wife, but Neel only submits to get his family off his back. He fully intends to ditch his new wife (without consummating the marriage) after he settles Leila into American life and helps her establish a career in her new country.

From then on, readers get to experience Leila's culture shock and adjustment to a new way of life (including her husband's continuing affair), along with Neel's growing realization that not everything in his new life (in particular his needy girlfriend) is really what he wanted and that there are aspects of his old life that he truly values and can happily embrace. A Good Indian Wife is an absorbing read that gives readers insights into the immigrant experience and the pros and cons of arranged marriages, while telling a classic story about the bumpy road to mutual understanding and love.

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