Reading, for me, has and always will be about escape and overcoming the seemingly impossible. I’ve always looked to stories to transport me to the Shire or Mars or perhaps someplace closer to home. They’ll be about uncovering the mysterious widget, defeating an evil wizard, or finding the one true love. I get to meet people who don’t live near me, look like me, or think like me—and the best books do all this while welcoming me in like a family member.
A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR by Sonali Dev did all of the above, with the added flourish of Bollywood drama—over-the-top plot twists, angst ramped all the way up, and rich Indian culture (and food, so much delicious food: the samosas, the rotis, the dals). At the heart of Dev’s novel pumps the idea that we all deserve a chance at love.
In the novel, Mili marries a boy when they are both young children. Shortly after, his mother takes him and leaves their small town without any notice. Since then, Mili has waited for his return so they could truly begin their married life together. In the meantime, she attends college in America and hopes to become a wife who will make him proud. Unfortunately, her husband has moved on and is married to another woman with a child on the way.
When he’s injured, his brother Samir, a Bollywood big shot and playboy, is sent to find Mili and secure an annulment. Samir expects a naive, meek woman, but instead finds a big-hearted optimist who opens his eyes to love. They shouldn’t fall for one another, but they do. As the story unfolds, the obstacles to their happiness pile up. In a hilarious chaotic finale, they find their way back to each other. Perhaps Mili says it best in speaking to Samir, “It’s not the fact that you left that’s important. What matters is that you came back and made it right.”
While the novel hits all the swoony beats of a romance—an awkward meet-cute involving a bike and a twisted ankle, near kisses, misunderstandings, impossible odds, and then a glorious happy-ever-after where the couple finds their way back to one another—it has so much more to offer. The bossy mothers, the nosy aunties, the bonds of women across generations all draw the reader in. With Dev’s detailed descriptions, the reader will feel more like another family member making samosas around the giant kitchen island than an outsider. Dev’s book also touches on social issues like child abuse and forced marriages (and their legality or lack thereof), adding reality-based difficulties for the characters to overcome.
Mili and Samir’s lives are wound together with complicated and long histories, each detail carefully constructed so the ultimate happy ending feels earned. A BOLLYWOOD AFFAIR is dramatic romance at its best, but it’s also so much more. It’s a second chance at happiness, a second chance at finding family, and a second chance at love.