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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Jill Norgren debuts as a SeniorWomenWeb book reviewer and begins with three engaging and beautifully written works of fiction that explore the intersection of emotion, relationship, and culture: The Gift of a Bride and The Indian Bride are murder mysteries, while Unaccustomed Earth, issued now in paperback, is a set of short stories. Joan L. Cannon reviews Somewhere Near the End by Diana Athill: Entertaining and challenging; a literate as well as a literary delight.

Books

The Gift of a Bride: A Tale of Anthropology, Matrimony and Murder

by Serena Nanda and Joan Gregg

Published by AltaMira Press/Rowman & Littlefield, ©2009; 224 pp.

and

The Indian Bride (An Inspector Sejer Mystery)

by Karin Fossum (trans. by Charlotte Barslund)

Harvest/Harcourt edition, ©2008; 297 pp.

and

Unaccustomed Earth: Stories

by Jhumpa Lahiri

Published by Vintage reprint edition, 2009; 352 pp.

These three engaging and beautifully written works of fiction explore the intersection of emotion, relationship, and culture. The Gift of a Bride and The Indian Bride are murder mysteries, while Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth is a set of short stories. The books are united by a shared concern for the demands, rewards, and complications of marriage and immigration, particularly on the part of individuals who once called India “home.”

Nanda and Young give us the story of intrigue and murder in an aspiring Indian immigrant family newly settled in New York City. What sets the book apart from the many thrillers which place ethnic or immigrant communities at the center of plot is the authors’ interest in explaining the cultural mores that govern behavior and shape motive. Their book folds mystery into a mini-course on marriage and family.

The Gift of a Bride opens with an Indian proverb: Daughters and sons are one’s own, but the daughter-in-law is other. The “other” in Nanda and Young’s spider’s web of familial love, greed, and violence is Angeli Khattar, an educated daughter of middle-class Punjabi parents. Raised as a sheltered child in Mumbai, Angeli digs deep into her reserve of common sense, desire to please, and patience as a young bride brought to live in a seedy Queens, New York neighborhood by Kumar, her Indian-American husband. During the couple’s first disagreement, Angeli reminds herself, “I must make the best of it. Now I am not my father’s daughter but belong to another house.”

Nanda and Young use layer upon layer of explanation about Hindu family relationships to build a suspenseful account of a family that expects obedience and malleability from a daughter-in-law. Readers will feel the complex pressures imbedded in these relationships, tensions and differences brought into sharp relief as Angeli ventures out into her adopted city and tries to placate her avaricious in-laws. Nanda and Young’s characters poke and prod whether it is better to marry “a suitable boy” or, as one character insists, “a soulmate, a man I love, whatever that chemistry is.” The Gift of a Bride is a sweet and chilling tale, told with considerable thoughtfulness, that rightly finds its place alongside the books of mystery writers Tony Hillerman and Jenny White, authors also concerned with the role of culture.

Jill Norgren

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©2009 Jill Norgren for SeniorWomen.com

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