A Good Indian Wife

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Two cultures and worlds apart

A Good Indian Wife explores the differences between American and Indian culture through numerous identities. The protagonist in the novel is a thirty-year-old Indian girl called Leila, who is married off to an Indian-American boy. When the story begins Leila works as a local teacher in a South Indian village – she teaches English, and because of her age is considered by her family as already too old to ever have a marriage. But then Neel arrives from the United States and although Leila, who has seen too many suitors come an go, thinks that Neel will be just the same, his family propose marrying the two off, which makes Leila’s family very happy because it’s almost as if this is an event they had thought would never come; after the marriage, Leila moves to San Francisco, with her husband.

Neel, meanwhile, comes across as an ideal-type of romantic Indian hero. He’s a handsome young boy, thirty-five-years-old, and works in a hospital as an anesthesiologist – he was actually very psyched about his life, until his marriage to Leila. Neel also has a tall blonde girlfriend, Caroline, in San Francisco, who he continues his romantic relationship with despite his marriage to Leila. Neel had to go back to his hometown because his grandfather was dying but then during the trip he was tricked into a marriage with Leila – Neel’s mother and aunt, during the trip to rural India, seem to be unaware of his relationship with Caroline because they consider him to be single and the only reason he gets married in India is because Neel’s fearful of disappointing his grandfather.

Neel promised himself he would divorce Leila soon after his grandfather had died, but Neel doesn’t. Neel’s trapped inside his traditional Indian identity, despite his character having overarched shades of modernity – Neel knows, all too well, his family would never accept Caroline as his bride. After Leila and Neel’s marriage, Neel does not touch his wife – she spends most nights and weekends by herself.

It makes for a good read to find Leila as a somewhat-independent young woman, with good looks and intelligence to boast, so it’s hardly surprising when Leila portrays that she’s got a vague idea about what her marriage is truly like, what it could really be, on the surface. Leila turns to a support group, as a result, she contemplates studying creative writing at Berkley and even confides in Neel’s best friend’s wife – he’s a Bengali but married to a white woman.

Everything complicates itself when Neel discovers Caroline’s family will never accept him – this kind of propels Neel to piece together another romantic story but with Leila instead. In the course of this, Leila becomes pregnant but Caroline is still waiting for Neel to divorce his wife so that the two can be together, which judging by what Caroline had in mind, is way past due already since this was supposed to happen after Neel’s grandfather had died.

Anne Cherian (the author of the novel) seems to write from her own Indian experiences – she’s originally from Jamshedpur (India), was also brought up there but resides in San Francisco now. The story brilliantly etches out both the Indian-American identity and the kind of experiences an Indian woman can have whilst living in the United States. It’s a superlative and traditional experience of two incompatible young people drowning their incompatibilities, and a good insight into Indian cultures (in the United States).

The Witchfinder’s Sister

A real life tale about an English witch-hunter

A witch hunt is happening in the 1600s in an otherwise sleepy English town and the culprit is called Matthew Hopkins. Based on the actual real life story of the witch-hunter, is a sensational novel, The Witchfinder’s Sister, attempting to piece together missing clues in Hopkins’ terrifying acts. To that end, Hopkins is made to have a fictional sister in the book, the widowed Alice who returns to Manningtree from London, following the death of her husband. Through Alice’s experiences of her brother’s misdeeds, the reader is able to gather a coherent idea of what drove Matthew to become a witch-hunter. At the height of religious fanaticism, there is a special book in the talks by Matthew, which lists names of many women. It is unclear if these names are suspected to be witches but Matthew and his comrades have already hanged somewhere around three hundred women, as part of the witch hunt. It was the biggest number of deaths since the last 160 years, and the scene of this event is set amidst a civil war and plenty of battlefield-related deaths.

Matthew, shockingly, is no longer the same person he was to his sister – he now has a fortune and it is suggestive that the Hopkins were born into an impoverished state. Matthew is also a grain merchant, with an enterprising nature and he has managed to turn his whole life around – previously, whilst growing up, he was the subject of other children’s ridicule because he was perceived to be odd. Alice, who has come to depend on her brother after her husband’s death in an accident, spends half of her time trying to be as less of a burden as possible to her brother, and the other half trying to figure out Matthew’s plans as a witch-hunter, and maybe even save herself and a loud and artless friend of their mother’s, Bridget, who is also her mother-in-law.

Matthew, who seemingly defying convention has managed to make himself a member of the upper class, with the accruing of wealth, is an emblem of how because of some people in it, the class can inextricably be associated with witch-hunters and witch-hunting. It’s not difficult to underline the reasons behind it because difference of behaviour in society might not always be looked at pleasantly but I suspect it’s more of the town’s circumstances than anything, which collides with the witch-hunter’s life and influences Matthew to change and keep the darkness alive. The book is at times mysterious, and at other times very raw in caricaturing disturbing elements of a famous witch-hunter. The tapestry of history associated with Matthew Hopkins, the witch-hunter, unravels beautifully and it is a thrilling story.