The Village Bride of Beverly Hills
GP Putnam’s Sons, 1st printing, 2004
Genre: Chick lit
Book Report: Following an arranged marriage in India, Priya relocates to California, where her new husband’s family has made a life for themselves. They are an oasis of traditional values and practices in the hustle of LA, though Priya begins to suspect that her new sister-in-law may be rebelling. After a year with the Sohnis, Priya is astonished when her mother-in-law tells her that she must get a job since she hasn’t yet conceived. No woman in Priya’s family has ever worked before, but she dutifully obeys Mummy and goes job hunting. Laxmi is with Priya that day, for she walks into the Hollywood Insider offices just as the receptionist goes into labor. Priya’s responsible and hardworking air—as well as her lack of ambition to be an actress—makes her a natural for the position.
Soon Priya is working harder than ever, still doing all the cooking and housework at home for her husband in in-laws, and working at the Hollywood Insider. But she also must juggle her appearance and behavior, as her traditional costumes or the homely hand-me-downs approved by her in-laws look outlandish at work. Luckily, Shanisse, assistant to the movie coverage editor, soon takes Priya under her wing, helping her buy more work appropriate clothes and suggesting she change into them at the gym on her way to and from work.
To return the favor, Priya steps in for Shanisse in an important interview, and attracts the attention of several power players, including a Hollywood star, a powerful publicist, and the editor-in-chief and publisher of Hollywood Insider. When offered the chance of a lifetime as a special interviewer, Priya battles her conscience, but her ambition wins out, and soon she is interviewing stars and attending premieres. The influence she wields at work begins to make up for the lack of autonomy she has at home, but she also becomes more aware of the imbalances within her marriage. Her husband Sanjay is torn between his parents and his wife, and Priya always seems to come out the loser. Fed up with juggling tradition and ambition in hopes of achieving balance, Priya must choose whether to make peace or rebel.
This was an unusual find for me, because I actually found it browsing in the library. Like, in person. Most of the time, I read either books already in my own personal library, or I simply order books from the MCL, and Eli picks them up for me. (I love deliveries.) But we had to stop to pick up some books on hold while running errands one afternoon, so I went in and did a little browsing, coming out with a historical novel and some chick lit. Not bad.
The Village Bride of Beverly Hills plays out much like one of the Bollywood movies Priya and Sanjay watch, following genre conventions and proving the importance of traditional values in a Western world. (They actually do sit down at one point and watch a Hindi film that spells out the troubles in their own marriage.) Priya places her marriage to Sanjay at the top of her priorities, and even though her career is fulfilling and validating in its own way, she also longs for love and validation in her home. It’s sometimes too romantic, especially Priya’s progress at the Hollywood Insider, which follows the simplistic premise that Priya’s wholesome and virtuous personality makes her appealing to everyone–despite a lack of ambition or discernible talent–and the somewhat trite and unconvincing ending. However, Daswani does make a point of having Priya suffer through some embarrassing trials, such as wearing her mother-in-law’s decades old castoffs to work and being mocked for writing in the style of her favorite Hindi magazine, Vivacious!
The most value in The Village Bride of Beverly Hills is in its exploration of America through Priya’s eyes as an immigrant, which is downright fascinating. (Once she’s in Beverly Hills, however, it becomes wildly improbable and a bit treacly.) We see how she tries to adapt, and how her in-laws have made their own compromises, and survey differences between Hindu and American cultures. It’s an entertaining and fast read, and worth checking out for its Southwest Asian influences; we can’t always read the same kinds of chick lit, can we?
Read also: Shiva Dancing by Bharti Kirchner, Emily Giffin
Cover: Bright and eye-catching. A sari background in hot pink, with a stylized version of Priya. Very chick lit.
My mother-in-law had been stationed by the dress section, and held up an ankle-length pinafore-frock covered in orange and yellow flowers.
“Oh, that’s quite pretty,” I said to Malini, who grabbed it out of her mother’s hands and exclaimed, “This is so hideous that not even a color-blind, pregnant-with-triplets woman would wear it.
“Look, bhabi, come with me,” she said, telling her parents to g and browse through the home furnishings department.
Together with Sanjay, we strolled down the aisles, pushing through hundreds of jackets and skirts and tops and blazers and jeans. Malini filled a blue shopping cart with possibilities and then held them up in front of her parents. I recognized them for the kinds of things I had seen in her own wardrobe. But now, they were all individually ejected for being “too showy,” “too low cut,” “too short,” “too tight, “too fancy.”
“Mum, Papa, you’re being ridiculous,” she said. “These are just fun things. What’s the problem?” she asked.
“Priya is the daughter-in-law,” her father replied sternly. “What you are showing us is for low-class American girls.”
I guessed, at that point, that my mother-in-law hadn’t looked inside Malini’s closet lately.
We gave up and went home. I resigned myself to another week of looking like a reject in a Miss Tamil Nadu contest.