By now, its common knowledge that I am wary of books by Indian authors. My dislike for Chetan Bhagat is well documented, I could not finish Jhumpa Lahiri's last book, I have read only one book by Aravind Adiga and have never even read Amitav Ghosh. Vikram Seth is different, he doesn't get into this league of writers at all!
So when I picked up this book, I was sceptical. I had attended the book launch and heard some great things about the book by people there, I saw the author speak, I also read the quotes behind the book cover. But the book snob in me was still a bit sceptic. Then, I read the booklet that came along with the book, something like a sort of introduction to the book and the author's style, and noticed myself getting excited.
And once I started the book, I was pleasantly surprised. As I got more into the book, I noticed myself getting interested more and more in the story. And by the time I was midway into the book I knew I liked the book. I was engrossed in the plot , completely and finished it in one go, cover to cover in 3 hours!
This is a fictionalized memoir of the author's life, with her drawing inspiration from various incidents in her life to put in the story. The style is narrative and its apparent that the author is the narrator. But when you start reading the book, you forget that this is a novel because it doesn't feel like fiction or that it is a memoir because it is not boring, self-indulgent or preachy.
What I liked best about this book is the flow of the story. It starts at a logical point in the author's life, and ends at another logical point. The writing is breezy, almost as if a friend is narrating her story to you, but it doesn't really have the conversational style, which is a welcome change.
There is humour in parts without the author sound funny because she has to but because the incident is funny, and the English is something you and I would use in our regular conversation, not some flowery language.
Its also an incredibly honest book, touching various serious issues that a regular Indian girl will see around her or happen to her. The author touches a bit upon the expectations the society sets for an Indian girl as she is growing up, the boy-girl child discrimination that most girls see in their houses and the child molestation issues, and yet makes sure that this is not a serious book. The tone of writing is not pat-me-on-the-back-I've-done-so-good-in-spite-of-having-so-many-issues , but is very as a matter of fact look-here-is-my-life-there-are-the-people-that-touched-it.
In my opinion, it is also very difficult to write a memoir and ensure that the reader does not get to know too much about the author's life, because when you are writing a memoir, you do not know how much information is too much. For example, one minute you are talking about having boyfriends and your views on sex and another minute you could put in a little too much detail for the reader's liking. I did not notice that in this book, which again talks a lot about the author's ability to tell a good story.
The treatment of all the various characters in the book is also very pleasant, even when the author talks about the not-so-good people in her life. You cannot help but applaud the maturity of the person if most of these incidents have actually happened in her life for real. And the relationships the author has had with each of these characters evolves as the book progresses and you can feel it in the words used.
At the book launch, I heard the author say that she didn't intend this to be a Booker prize standard book, and she wrote it because she had a story to tell. I liked the honesty behind that statement. All of us have a story to tell, its how you tell it that matters. And I think this is a very well told story, something that might not win awards but will win hearts.
Also don't let the booklet judge you the book. In my honest opinion, the author did not chose the best passages to be in the booklet, the ones in there are just ordinary if you compare it with the rest of the book!
Yes, the book is much much better than the booklet will you think it is.
I will not call this a story of a rebel or a revolutionary tale of an Indian girl. To me, this is a story of a regular Indian girl who has lived her life the way she wants to without getting bogged down by the expectations that she has to live upto and worrying about judgement.
If you are a girl reading this book, you will identify with a lot of aspects in this book. At many parts it feels like the author is talking about your life, at other parts, you might feel that you should've behaved like the author has. It will also appeal to the feminist in you, not the bra-burning one, but the am-equal-to-a-man-in-every-respect and I-have-a-right-to-live-my-life-the-way-I-want-to one.
If you are a man reading this book, depending on how evolved you are, you will feel various degrees of surprise at the honesty in this book, and also get a peek into the mind of most modern Indian girls of this day.