I read Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee on my Sony Reader, thanks to NetGalley. The novel is out as of today, May 17, 2011.
About the Book:
Anjali “Angie” Bose has outgrown her life in small-town Gauripur, India. She’s tired of its backward ways, slow pace, and lack of opportunity. When her father begins the search for a suitable husband, Anjali does her best to be a good daughter and go along; after all, since her older sister’s marriage failed, Anjali knows her father needs a success in the match-making arena. But the role she’s being groomed for–that of a dutiful wife and mother–is all wrong for Anjali. Finally, at the urging of her American professor (and with his cash and connections to help her along), Anjali sets off for Bangalore. In this cutting edge, big city environment, Anjali begins the work of carving her path in the world.
Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee was, for me, mostly an intellectual read. I found myself interested in the direction it would take without being particularly swept up in the story. As with most novels, I feel it had its strengths and its weaknesses.
First, I liked what the author did with Anjali. The main character’s young–in her late teens, I believe–and unsure of herself but trying to take confident steps forward in her life. She makes bad decisions. She second-guesses herself. She throws caution to the wind one moment, then immediately regrets it and sets about making amends. She tries to be professional and grown up, yet she can’t resist the temptation to explore the young, wild side of Bangalore. I think Mukherjee did a nice job capturing that beginning of adulthood, when so many doors are open and you feel invincible, yet at the same time you’re not sure how to take the first step.
My feelings toward Anjali as a person were as nuanced as the character herself. She never won my heart, but I was always curious to see where she would end up. At times she disgusted me, frustrated me, made me smile, made me nervous. She tried my patience, but at the same time, I could understand why she acted the way she did.
I also felt the exploration of modern Bangalore was fascinating. Anjali hopes to land a job in a call center. She comes into contact with other call center employees, employee trainers, journalists interested in the topic, and more. I never felt Mukherjee had oversaturated her narrative with her theme, though; rather, it felt very much like I’d been immersed in a niche of the world with which I’d previously had very little contact. I was intrigued to meet characters in various roles and to hear them debate and discuss the direction in which Bangalore was moving.
What fell short for me was twofold. First, the characters who were not Anjali didn’t especially come to life, even if I was interested to meet them and hear what they had to say. They seemed to lean more toward two-dimensional than three-. Second, the story struck me as a bit meandering. Certainly, life can turn out that way–my own has taken its share of unexpected turns. But coupled with this aimlessness was Anjali’s apparently bottomless good luck. She always met the right people at the right moment. Happy accidents abounded. I never worried for her the way I’d expected to, because it always seemed a safety net would pop up at precisely the right time. I didn’t find the plot predictable, though, and as I said, the themes woven throughout were plenty interesting.
Overall, I’d recommend Miss New India if you enjoy books that nicely incorporate social, economic, and cultural themes as well as anyone who can overlook a few shortcomings in a novel to get at the good stuff.
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