because bibliophiles require refreshment

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

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As I grow older, I am less subject to hype around works of art. I like reviews and I pay attention to critical mass of opinion, but I’m more likely to wait until the furor dies down after a release of something so that I make sure I come to the work fairly fresh and can appreciate it as I would if I just stumbled across it.

A Bollywood Affair is one of those books I waited on for a bit. Whenever it’s mentioned on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast, it gets a veritable tongue bath. I can’t find anyone who said anything negative about this book. They talked about Milli as a completely original romance heroine. They said you’ll be hungry as you read this and how Dev writes is a revelation.

Petals, they were right.

I ADORE this book.

A.DORE.

Millie and Sam are thrown together by a serious set of bizarre circumstances that could, I promise you, only exist in India. Millie and Sam’s brother were married when they were children as part of an ancient ceremony in their home village. Problem is, Sam’s family believes the marriage to be annulled while the couple were in their teens. While Millie is still waiting for her husband to come find her, Sam’s brother is married and expecting their first child.

Sam goes on a mission to convince Millie to sign the annulment papers they thought had already been signed and ends up in Michigan, where she’s on a fellowship getting her M.A. in sociology. When they first meet, the shock of him sends her clumsily rides her bike into a tree and incurs quite a few injuries. Because he is, at his core, a good man, Sam takes care of her. He makes up a flimsy lie about how he’s from a neighboring village from India and is in MI on a writing retreat (he’s a Bollywood script writer). The lie works for most of the book, until the reality of his feelings for Millie mean truth has to be revealed.

I have rarely read a book that I have so strongly wanted to press into the hands of total strangers and tell them that they must read it. When we talk about needing diversity in romance, this is the kind of book we’re talking about. Fully immersed in a world where no one is a token, everything is authentic, A Bollywood Affair is a window into a rich vein of stories that don’t take place in an Anglo-centric culture scape.

I’ve spent a little bit of time traveling around India, specifically Rajasthan where Milli is from, and I won’t lie – this book brought back fond memories of that trip. I adored my time in India and have wanted to go back ever since I left. It’s a universe unto itself, with cultures and languages and traditions overlapping and intertwining in ways compartmentalized Westerners often have trouble grasping. This book demonstrated that so beautifully.

The traditions that Milli held dear were scoffed at by Sam, but she did not compromise. Her ideas of honor may seem antiquated to both him and us, but that doesn’t matter. She gets to choose how she lives her life and she chooses how she was raised. Her understanding of feminism and femininity amidst a patriarchial traditional structure was so realized and so rich.

And the way Dev describes Milli’s enjoyment of food and the food itself… my Kindle may have drool marks.

And, since we’re talking romance, let me make this clear: this is absolutely a romance novel. Their happily ever after is well earned and wonderful, empowering both of them to be their best selves and isn’t that the point of true love? Sam is my new book boyfriend, betedubs. Because jaysus, mary and joseph, the way she describes him…

If you’ve never experienced this, I’d highly recommend it. The only drink that’s appropriate to enjoy with this delight is chai, but since proper chai is hard to come by in the states, tea will do.

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Further Reading:

  • Child marriage is still happening in India and elsewhere, despite its illegal status in most of the world. Girls Not Brides is a fantastic organization working to stop the practice.
  • Being an international student is not easy, even if you have a comfort with the language of your new institution. Idioms, culture, finances – I’m sure Milli could relate to many of these things on this Buzzfeed listicle.
  • Food is the third character of this book. If you – like me – felt an urge to eat Indian food or maybe even learn to make it yourself after reading this, check out this fabulous blog!

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I got a copy of this book from the eBook section of my local library. If you haven’t checked if your library has such a service, make sure to! If they don’t ask your librarian if another library in your state offers it – you may qualify for a card to them even if you don’t live in the county!

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