Retired government clerk Mr. Ali is driving Mrs. Ali crazy, and so he decides to start a business—a marriage bureau for rich people. He hangs up a sign and places an ad, and soon, his business is flourishing. The business brings plenty of excitement to the lives of the Alis—overly specific requirements, challenging customers, mysterious clients—enough so that Mr. Ali hires an assistant, Aruna. Busy arranging other people’s lives, the Ali’s and Aruna shouldn’t be surprised when fate decides to rearrange their lives too!
Bubby: I know, I know—we just did a book set in India. But this book fell into my hands at Barnes and Noble, and I just couldn’t help myself. Plus, I had Indian food this past weekend, so perhaps I was under the influence.
Sissy: And you know me—free books (purchased by Bubby) and I’m in! Also the cover is all scrolly with gold leaf dots and henna hands and very India motif-y in pink, orange, and blue. Who can resist such a thing?
Bubby: The very concept of an arranged marriage has always seemed bizarre to me. I’m pretty sure that’s because my parents’ choice for me would probably have been scary, and not nearly as good as what I chose for myself. However, as my children get older, I begin to see the wisdom in such arrangements! I love how Farahad Zama throws you right into the deep end of Indian culture—it seems that not a lot has changed in the past several hundred years. Zama makes no excuses and doesn’t overly explain things—he just assumes you know that’s the way it is.
Sissy: Yes—things like living with the groom’s parents, adhering to traditional dress, customs, rituals, and foods, dowry and caste system requirements (both illegal)—give us a fascinating look into the world of Indian marriage. The descriptions of both Muslim and Hindu weddings are very interesting. Who knew, for example, that in a traditional Brahmin wedding the groom dresses like an austere monk and tries to renounce marriage in pre-ceremony ritual? Or that silver or gold toe rings are placed on the bride’s feet by the groom?
Bubby: I must say my favorite character in the book is a tossup between Mr. Ali’s assistant Aruna and Mrs. Ali. My favorite line in the book is when Mr. Ali bets Mrs. Ali that she can’t find him an assistant and she says when she wins he must take her out to dinner—not some cheap place, but rather “I want Tandoori chicken!” she says. Yes, Mrs. Ali, we all want tandoori chicken. I love how both Aruna and Mrs. Ali are both very traditional Indian women yet are articulate, intelligent, and have sparkling personalities.
Sissy: How about yummy Ramanujam? I won’t tell you what happens with this erstwhile client, but he is straight out of a Bollywood film. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People started out slow for me but after a few chapters I became invested in the characters and found it to be a delightful story. Don’t be put off by all our descriptions in the beginning of this review—the culture and flavor of India just weave through this tale and make it colorful and interesting.
Bubby: I, too, loved Ramanujam. He is every inch the Indian prince charming. I advise that before you begin to read this debut novel by Farahad Zama you Google the exchange rate from rupees to dollars. Guaranteed you will feel very rich, even compared to some of the “rich people” described in the book. The storytelling, characterizations, and descriptions are delightful and I am interested to read more from this author.
Sissy: The tale of a matchmaking service in modern-day India certainly opens one’s eyes to how different things still are when you go from the West to the East in the world. I can’t believe you haven’t mentioned, Bubby, how an Indian gentleman we knew in California once offered our dad $10,000 for me to marry his son. Dad was speechless and mom nearly went after the guy with her steak knife!
Bubby: Oh yes—that was a missed opportunity for you, Sissy! I can see it now—you in your sari living in the home of Mr. and Mrs. M-
Sissy: Perish the thought! Horrifying! I would have taken all the gold bangles and toe rings and run off to Northern Canada (that’s just the most non-India place I can think of).
Bubby: I thoroughly enjoyed “The Marriage Bureau for Rich People” by Farahad Zama. I escaped from my white-bread American winter blahs and basked in a mango-scented reverie. I give it 3 ½ Bubbles.
Sissy: Earth to mango-scented crazy town: time to shovel the walks! I too enjoyed the book, and also give it 3 1/ 2 Bubbles.
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