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Review: For Matrimonial Purposes

Review: For Matrimonial Purposes

Title: For Matrimonial Purposes
Author: Kavita Daswani
Published: 2003
Length: 277 pages

My star rating: ★ ★ ★

At thirty-three, Anju should long since have been married and settled in her native India. Instead, she works in the fashion industry in New York City, where she makes only half-hearted attempts to solve her marriage woes. Anju, faced with yet another unsuitable suitor at her cousin’s wedding, recalls the ups and downs of her “Great Husband Hunt” and her struggle to find her place in her society.

[11/15 novels in November]

Note: This review is (relatively) spoiler-free, but I have included one tiny little spoiler in my Goodreads review!

Chick lit should be, at heart, fun and light. It shouldn’t leave me as sad as this book did.

I want to preface the review by saying that, while I am quite interested in Indian culture, I can’t claim a lot of knowledge about it. As someone whose “love life” does not exist, I can also say that I don’t disapprove of the concept of arranged marriages. I can see their appeal. However, arranged marriages—certainly as presented in this novel—are usually obligatory for young Indians rather than voluntary, and they’re all tied up with the ever-growing, seriously problematic dowry system. (I did a lot of research on that in college. Talk about something that will make you sad!)

In short, I’m not trying to poo-poo Indian culture or traditions. The way Ms. Daswani describes the matrimonial process, though, makes it clear that women get a very raw deal, evaluated first on their appearance—height, weight (preferably low), and skin tone (preferably light)—and then on their behavior—ideally, sweet, quiet, modest, and submissive.

And it made me feel sad. I felt sad for Anju, the narrator who has, for some reason, always been found wanting and remains single well into her thirties; and I felt sad for all her former friends, who ended up married with babies and secretly envied Anju her glamorous career and independent life in New York City (or so she suspects).

There were light-hearted moments and funny moments, of course. And going in, anyone who has seen a rom-com before has to know that, in the end, Anju will find her “Indian prince.” But the majority of the two-hundred-sixty-odd pages before she does are filled with pity—Anju spending the best part of a decade feeling sorry for herself and dissatisfied by her life in Bombay; Anju’s family and friends feeling sorry for her; and even Anju’s American friends feeling sorry for her.

It got old fast.

Anju was okay as a character, but her motivations and development made little sense. I respected her desire to live according to her culture and its traditions, but did she really? Sometimes, she seemed to hate India, seemed to want to be an independent, modern Western woman who drank cosmopolitans at cocktail parties and wore stylish designer clothes. At others, she disdained everything about American life and longed for nothing more than to be married to a “good [Indian] boy.” I empathized with her loneliness and the hopelessness of feeling like she would never find “the” (or any) one. Still, something was lacking there.

Most of the other characters were just tired old stereotypes with annoying dialogue—when they had any personality at all.

The most interesting characters were all of Anju’s rejected suitors. Even they made me sad, though, because marrying someone you’ve met once or twice does seem like serious business, especially if you make the wrong choice. What if, for instance, Anju had married someone living in a war-torn foreign country far away from anyone she knew or loved, where she had no opportunities outside the home? To me, there was nothing very funny about that.

I did like the bits and pieces of Indian culture I got exposed to along the way, and I loved envisioning all the different saris and pieces of jewelry that Anju described.

But the whole book could have been a hundred pages shorter with the same result. The end felt rushed, and just as Anju is beginning to broaden her horizons, beginning to grow and change and adapt to non-conservative, non-traditional ideas, the whole point of the last ten pages of the story and half of Anju’s character growth were completly negated.

Ah, well. It was sort of a fun read. It is just chick lit!

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