Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fiction: The Full Moon Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

Shobhan Bantwal’s fifth novel covers ground that will be familiar to her readers and that, in some ways, reads like a page from her own life. In The Full Moon Bride (Kensington) Bantwal once again explores romance and the dowry culture and the world of arranged marriages, this time between an environmental lawyer from New Jersey and two suitors -- one family chosen and sanctioned and one not.

Bantwal has taken a bit of time coming to this fully American story. Her first two novels, The Dowry Bride and The Forbidden Daughter, were both set in India. Two more novels, The Sari Shop Widow and The Unexpected Son, were both set in the United States, but with backdrops redolent with the sounds, sights and smells of India. The Full Moon Bride, however, is an American novel, where the main character happens to be of Indian birth and, as it turns out in ways that will surprise even her, sensibilities.

Thirty-something Soorya Giri is, in many ways, the very picture of young professional American womanhood. A successful lawyer, she works too hard, worries about her weight and keeping her parents off her back about finding Mr. Right. Less typically, her parents want to do more than help Soorya find an acceptable mate: they want to do it for her by putting together an arranged marriage. They are relentless and Soorya feels out of options so she allows her parents to arrange the traditional bride viewings that will allow potential husbands or their families to get a look at her. The process is uncomfortable at best but, once it’s complete, Soorya has two strong options: one young man her parents would delight in her marrying and another who is less suitable in almost every way.

In many ways, The Full Moon Bride is a straight up story of love and self-redemptiopn that you’ve read before. But the very real ties to traditional Indian culture add a deeper -- and more exotic -- dimension. And it’s enjoyable to partake in Soorya’s growth -- both spiritually and intellectually.

The Full Moon Bride is an engaging and satisfying read. ◊

Monica Stark is a contributing editor to January Magazine. She currently makes her home on a liveaboard boat somewhere in the North Pacific.

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