Syal charts the lives of three 30-something Indian women, friends since childhood, living in contemporary London. Sunita, a former activist law student, is a depressed, overweight housewife and mother of two, and Tania has rejected the traditional arranged marriage for a high-powered career in TV, an apartment in trendy Soho and a Caucasian live-in boyfriend. Chila, whom the other two consider simple, is marrying Deepak, "bagging not only a groom with his own teeth, hair, degree and house, but the most eligible bachelor within a 20-mile radius." All three women struggle with living in two cultures: the Indian world in which a woman's worth is largely measured by her husband's stature, and modern British culture, where self-realization and careerism dominate. Told from alternating points of view, the novel describes, with clarity and resonance, the cultural collision that occurs when Tania makes a brash documentary on relationships, using her friends as subjects and presenting them in an unflattering light. After an incident between Tania and Deepak at the screening inflames the situation, the trio's lifelong friendship is further imperiled. Syal handles many serious issues, including a death, a birth, a kidnapping and an extramarital affair or two, with wit and precision. A kind of Bridget Jones' Diary meets The Buddha of Suburbia, the novel poignantly captures the core of its characters with lusty brio and keen intelligence.
The author captures the growing pains of second-generation Indian women, as they struggle to liberate themselves without disowning their culture, or each other. The women, by turns maddening and endearing, become vibrantly alive. I enjoy reading about other cultures.