I bought this book simply because the publisher’s review claimed it could be compared to Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Austen. Both favourites. And hallowed names, at least, in my literary canon.
Farahad Zama is in no way comparable to either of these authors. A simple, light read that has not the layers of meaning that you will find in an Austen novel or the quirky humor of McCall Smith. It is a book that does not even attempt to subvert the clichés, but instead embraces them as the only sense of reality.
The story begins when Mr Ali, bored of his retired life, decides to open a marriage bureau for wealthy clients. Business flourishes and characters look to Mr Ali not only to find them a life partner but also to untangle their complicated lives.
Among them are Mr Ali’s young assistant Aruna, who falls in love with a client and needs large amounts of help and time to answer what seemed to be a straightforward question. I personally thought she behaves rather brainlessly through most of the novel.
I was bored with Ramanujan, the oh so good doctor who is Aruna’s love interest. Zama is so busy making him look perfect that he failed to make him appeal as a human being, turning him out as flat and one sided rather than as a rounded personality. As Mark Twain once said and I paraphrase – living with a saint is more difficult than being one!
While Mr Ali is in the foreground, it’s his wife who exhibits more pragmatism and understanding of the world. Not surprising that I found myself warming much more to her than to Mr Ali.
Another character who could have been sketched out more is the Alis’ son who is a rebel of sorts because he chooses to fight for the rights of dispossessed farmers rather than settle down to a conventional middle class life of a steady job and marriage.
Overall, the book was not gripping or a page turner. Characterization - disappointing. Plot – thin. Maybe aimed at a Western audience who love to hear of exotic Indian customs. Bollywood movie? A definite possibility!
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