By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
By Elizabeth Eslami
Pegasus Books LLC, 2010
After four years of hard work and no play, Jasmine Fahroodhi has failed out of college.
Her classmates are getting ready to begin the rest of their lives, but Jasmine has moved from Chicago back to Arrowhead, Ga. And to top it all off, her father has plans for a hastegar, an arranged marriage.
For someone born and raised in America, Jasmine is insulted and more than a little confused, since her Iranian father and Southern belle mother married for love.
But the 22-year-old is also intrigued, so she humors her father and agrees.
Meeting suitor after suitor, Jasmine wonders just how well her father knows her, as each man who visits the Fahroodhi home seems to be successively worse. From the robotic young man with little personality, to the playboy just looking for a good time, to the deadbeat who shows up drunk (and possibly high), slinging insults, Jasmine’s encounters are both horrifying and humorous.
Along the way, she learns more about her parents — especially her father, who has always been a mystery — and their relationship. Jasmine also learns about different types of love: romantic, familial, and platonic.
What I enjoyed about “Bone” is the story’s complexity. In addition to dealing with the marriage business, Jasmine is trying to figure out what to do with her non-existent biology and zoology degrees. She also has to learn how to live with two people whom she’s known her whole life but still doesn’t really know.
Despite these serious issues, “Bone” also has many lighthearted moments. One of my favorite moments is when Jasmine is caught writing in library books (mostly made up stories about her father’s mysterious past). The librarian calls her father to come pick her up and his reaction is nothing short of hilarious.
“Bone” will also have readers thinking twice about arranged marriages and the Western attitude of them being archaic and out of date. As the story points out, people are always being set up on blind dates and meeting people online. An arranged marriage, essentially, is the same thing.
“The Marriage Bureau for Rich People”
By Farahad Zama
Berkley Books 2009
Bored with retirement and driving his wife crazy, Mr. Ali decides to open a marriage bureau.
He places an ad in the newspaper, puts a sign up outside his house, and waits for clients to call. He receives calls from politicians seeking mates for their sons or daughters, to individuals who wish to arrange their own marriages. People from all backgrounds are in need of Mr. Ali’s services. Some are pretty open about what they seek in a mate, while others’ requirements are a bit more precise — such as a father who wants a tall groom for his short daughter (so their children have a better chance of at least being medium height).
Set in India, “Marriage Bureau” follows the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Ali, as they embark upon a new business endeavor. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Mr. Ali, as he works to pair the right men and women together. The story is occasionally told from other characters’ points of views, such as Mrs. Ali and Aruna, his assistant.
What I really loved about this book was the different types of people who enter Mr. Ali’s office. Zama — whose own marriage was arranged — goes into detail describing even minor characters, so readers are able to imagine clearly who these people are and invest in their stories. We even get to learn some of these stories throughout the book.
I also loved that Zama occasionally veers away from the central characters’ lives to follow up on the arrangements, engagements, and weddings of some of Mr. Ali’s clients. The story even highlights traditional Muslim and Brahmin ceremonies, which I found fascinating.
While arranged marriages are often considered old-fashioned by the Western world and that they don’t take the individuals’ thoughts or feelings into account, “Marriage Bureau” shows that their thoughts and feelings do matter. The story shows that even if two people are a match on paper, that doesn’t always translate in real life, which is what really matters — in any type of relationship.
“For Seven Lifetimes”
By Vatsala and Ehud Sperling
Inner Traditions, 2000
At 34, Vatsala holds multiple, advanced degrees in microbiology, a steady job, and takes care of herself.
In America, these qualities would be admirable among women. But in India in 1995, Vatsala’s independence deems her an outcast — she is viewed to have low or no moral character. Because of this, she is not married, while most women her age are in the middle of raising their families.
Wanting a husband, she decides to arrange her own marriage. Vatsala combs the Matrimonials section of the newspaper every week, becoming an expert in reading between the lines of the short ads. She also learns that finding a mate will be difficult due to her outspoken nature.
But Vatsala doesn’t give up and discovers an ad placed by one Ehud Sperling, an American book publisher seeking a wife from India.
Thus begins a yearlong courtship through letters in an age before the Internet, online chatting, and cell phones.
“Lifetimes” is the true story of Vatsala and Ehud Sperling — about how a small ad in an Indian newspaper brought them together. A combination of first-person narrative and letters, the book shows how two strangers on two continents can have enough in common to build a marriage.
Despite the unusual nature of their initial relationship, Vatsala and Ehud go through the stages that every couple does. They learn about each other’s interests, career, family, values, beliefs, etc. I loved reading how their relationship grew with their words.
Vatsala and Ehud want someone to spend their life with, but they want to do it right and they want it to stick. This was one of the things I really enjoyed about “Lifetimes.” In a time when the divorce rate is about 50 percent, it is nice to be reminded that marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment and not to be taken lightly — something many people tend to forget. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.