By Ekta R. Garg
Sept. 7, 2012
Rated: Borrow it
When a marketing and public relations manager meets the man of her dreams, she thinks she’s found the perfect solution to her family’s concern about her singlehood. But when her dream guy asks her to use her skills to help him find a bride, she doesn’t know whether to be shocked that he asked—or shocked that she accepts. Shobhan Bantwal’s sixth novel, The Relunctant Matchmaker, falls in line with the books of such talented South Asian writers as Anjali Banerjee and offers lighthearted fare along the same lines as Banerjee’s books: chick lit with a curry twist.
Meena Shenoy belongs to a lesser-known sector of the Indian immigrant population: that of the Konkani residents common to the city of Mangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka. Like so many other Indian immigrants, Meena’s parents came to the U.S. several years earlier to pursue better opportunities and Meena and her brothers have grown up straddling the fence between two cultures. So Meena is comfortable with her 31-year-old working girl self, but her relatives and parents’ friends worry about her marital status.
“The consensus was that if I didn’t find a husband within a year,” Meena explains early in the book, “I was quite likely to die an old maid. With each passing year I was supposedly inching closer to tooth loss, dementia, and osteoporosis. I’d probably lose even more inches because small women were more susceptible to bone deterioration…”
While Meena takes in stride, for most part, her unusually petite frame—she barely reaches five feet tall—she knows her height counts as an extra strike against her in the collective community’s bid to get her married. So when she (literally) runs into the CEO of the company, and the CEO also happens to hail from the same Indian sect, she finds herself intrigued. Prajay Nayak easily towers over her, but he’s confident and attractive and he pays attention to her when she gets injured at work. Suddenly Meena realizes her marital prospects may have just improved.
Meena thinks Prajay reciprocates her feelings and gets excited when he invites her into his office after hours one night. But when Prajay confesses he needs Meena’s help as a PR manager to help him find a bride who, among other things, can physically look him in the eye (owing to his unusually tall stature,) Meena feels crushed. She accepts the project, as much to spend more time with Prajay as for the generous extra pay he offers her, but she wishes at the same time he would realize they’re perfect for each other. A brief romantic encounter seems to improve her chances, but then Prajay turns the tables on Meena—and the situation gets even more complicated.
Author Bantwal’s breezy style makes The Reluctant Matchmaker an easy weekend read as well as an interesting one. She takes the time to explain various terms from the Konkani language in a manner that might seem a touch didactic in some places, but for the most part readers will appreciate the quick translations and explanations. Those familiar with the way Indian families and communities work will certainly find themselves smiling and nodding along in places, and despite the predictable ending Bantwal makes the journey enjoyable. Balancing the demands and protocol of older traditions with the changes of the current generation can prove a little tricky, but Bantwal keeps her story and her characters level.
Bantwal describes her novel as “Bollywood in a Book” to indicate that there’s a little something for everyone and just the slightest touch of entertaining melodrama that accompanies that film industry’s products. As aforementioned, her style and choice of story may remind readers of Anjali Banerjee’s work. I recommend The Reluctant Matchmaker for those who enjoy women’s fiction with South Asian themes.
What the ratings mean:
Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection. It’s definitely worth it!
Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.
Bypass it–Free time is precious. Don’t spend it on this book!