This book was provided to me by Random House India in exchange of a fair review.
I am not a big fan of chick-lit, although I respect the fact that it is the stuff that fuels most teenage girls’ dreams and aspirations. At one point they did the same for me and I wanted nothing better than to loll around on summer afternoons with my latest pick and daydream of walking through cobbled streets and falling in love with a mysterious stranger in a panama hat. Now, I am too old and have read too many tales and can’t fall into the same trap once again. I picked up this book with a sigh, expecting to know the plot beforehand – you know, rich girl goes backpacking with friends and meets a handsome foreigner working in a vineyard who then forces her to break the cage of her Indian restrictions and live free. Boy, was I wrong!
The cover is nice, but I wish it had been more Van Goghesque since the main protagonist is given to those type of imaginings all through the book, given her art history background.
We are introduced to the heroine of the tale, Arya (lovely name by the way), an investment banker with a degree in art history, living in Mumbai, travelling all over the world for on-site inspections, with a love of expensive shoes and clothes and belonging to a middle-class south Indian family. In fact, she is just like so many women I know; intelligent, independent, loves her family and given to a weakness for the more luxurious materialistic pleasures of life. She gets engaged to her boyfriend and childhood friend in the beginning of the book and the story picks it up from there. She loves her job but she loves art history more and when given a chance to help a client buy a vineyard in Rome, she is unable to say no even at the risk of throwing the spanner into a major family get-together. I loved all the secondary characters in the book as well. Arya’s best friend Narina, which I kept reading as Narnia; her boyfriend/fiancee Karthik, a nice Indian boy – the kind you are proud to bring back home; her boss Sandeep, the boss who is your friend until the day he decides he isn’t; the client’s representative Vikram Malhotra, bossy and with that hustle of a true Indian businessman with flashes of a deeper intelligence than given credit for; her father, who is just as lovable as most dad’s are; and even the very eccentric Malama, the indolent household help. I thought the descriptions of her very broad-minded south Indian family were beautifully executed and very spot-on and again reminiscent of people and households I have known, including the cooking frenzy that takes over at family gatherings and the brightly colored silk sarees.
And the vineyards. The descriptions of the vineyards they visit, of the wine-making techniques and of the different types of wines from the different regions are in themselves worthy of classifying this book as a travelogue for aspiring world travelers. The author manages to capture the spirit of the people who have been doing this for centuries and translate it seamlessly into the web of her narrative. One should read the book just for the wonderful descriptions of the locales and the wine-making industry in Italy. It seems a bit unfair and restrictive to classify it as Chick-lit when it is so much more. A travelogue, an Indian story, a romance and women’s lit all rolled into one.
I like the author’s crisp narrative style and the lack of pretentiousness in the story. She has refused to succumb to the ‘template’ of a novel for young Indian adults, without the addition of the unnecessary ‘obligatory’ characters and has given us a story that is as whimsical as a fairy tale but is also something that can plausibly happen to a middle-class Indian girl. Arya’s character is that of a likable, serious person with a dreamer hidden inside. She is a bit too sensitive and easily overwhelmed at times, but then being a pampered child will do that to you I guess. The author has the freshness of the early Sophie Kinsella books when she was writing as Madeline Wickham and I hope she manages to retain it in the next ventures she undertakes.
Stop : Spoiler Ahead
Ishaan is the ‘other’ man she falls for. I can’t quite make up my mind about him. He comes from a very privileged background and is given to expecting most people to toady up to him. He has just opened up a new business and is working hard to get it off the ground and is extremely passionate about it. But, apart from his physical beauty, I thought he was least interested in anyone else except for his work. I never felt his passion for wines translate into one for Arya. I sincerely hope he turns out to be a crush, a monumental one no doubt, but just a crush for Arya. I felt her deep connection to Karthik all through the book and although I understand the attraction to a handsome, troubled-looking young man, I am praying that she doesn’t end up with him and truly thank the author for giving me that loophole of hope at the end. Most people would never agree with me, and I apologize, but that’s that.