I have to admit that if I was in a bookshop I would have walked straight past this book. So, when I was given the opportunity to read it, I checked out a few reviews on it and, although a little apprehensive, decided, well, why not. I thought: what do I really know about India other than the Taj Mahal, Bollywood, Imran Khan and a cracking good Vindaloo on a Friday night? Well, alright, not that little – but my point is, I don’t know much. The reviews seemed to suggest that there would be something to learn from the book. My apprehension was happily misplaced. The first chapter – more of a prologue – drew me in straightaway. Whilst the novel is fictional, the story of boy-meets-girl-marries-girl (Jai and Kaahi) is interwoven with a treasure trove of facts about India – sometimes in the characters’ conversations, sometimes as explanatory paragraphs. The author’s uncomplicated style never makes the latter heavy-reading. The facts that are interspersed in the conversations do make the dialogue a little strange at times, especially between the two main characters – it’s sometimes hard to believe that two people in love would actually talk like reference books – but you become so engrossed in the information you overlook this. Even the references to cricket (which to my mind is marginally more exciting than watching paint dry) are interesting.
If you separate the story from the factual content, you are left with a rather unsubstantial, rather frail boy-meets-girl tale, which would not stand alone. If you separate the factual content from the story, you have an ordinary, but easy-to-read guide book that could sit happily next to a Lonely Planet guide. Put them together you have a unique, enjoyable book that has you caring deeply about Jai and Kaahi’s life and future and the opportunity to learn more about the richness of India’s tapestry of culture, language, food, costume, religion, customs and geography. The author has now managed to put India on my bucket list of places to visit. I wish all my geography books had been written like this – I might have learnt more.
This book is quite a little gem.