What I'm Reading: The Storyteller's Secret
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” –Stephen King
I am a picky reader. I think most writers are. We know what good writing is, and we will not (usually) read poor writing. I am also a picky reader because I often read in the genre I am currently writing, or novels with similarities to my current project, like culture, time, location, or historical events. The monthly book from my book club and the occasional indulgent read also work their way into my to-read list. That said, I have decided to write reviews for the books I read that make me want to read them again. So without further ado, let me introduce to you Sejal Badani’s The Storyteller’s Secret.
The Storyteller’s Secret features two main characters: Jaya and her grandmother Amisha(who died when Jaya’s mother was a baby). Jaya has had multiple miscarriages, and when we meet her at the beginning of the novel, her marriage is falling apart and she is desperate for the love of a child and struggling with the loss of love between her and her husband. Amisha’s story is told to us by an old servant and Amisha’s best friend, Ravi. At age fifteen, Amisha is married to Deepak, a man who fails to make Amisha feel the love she so desperately desires. After Amisha’s death, Deepak marries a cruel woman who mistreats Jaya’s mother Lena to the point that Lena, after marrying and moving to America, refuses to ever go back to her home in India. When Deepak lay dying, he asks for Lena to return so he can give her something. Lena refuses to go, and Jaya, needing an escape from her pain, travels to India. Once there, she meets Ravi and is informed of Deepak’s death. Before giving Jaya Deepak’s gift for Lena, Ravi tells her Amisha’s story, which helps to heal Jaya of her own pain, and explain why her mother always remained distant and seemingly unloving toward Jaya.
Why I loved this book:
The descriptions are vibrant and they perfectly evoke the mood that Badani’s scenes are meant to convey. Laced with both heartbreaking images of third world poverty and uplifting celebrations (like Holi and weddings) and daily life in a small village bustling with activity, Badani transports the reader to the heart of India, making even the person who has never even seen pictures of India know the difference between India and most other parts of the world.
The characters are equally vibrant, and each has his or her own unique voice and personality. Ravi is the wise old man who indirectly helps Jaya find her peace. Jaya is an independent American Journalist who is broken by nature’s refusal to make her a mother and give her the love of a child. Amisha is a mother desperate for the love of her husband. Lena is a woman who never felt the love of her parents. This yearning for love both ties the women together and differentiates them.
***SPOILER ALERT (I don’t give it all away)*** The romances take the reader on an emotional roller coaster, leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end. Too often I have read novels where marriages fall apart, the characters never striving (or only half-heartedly) to fix their marriage. This book is not like that. Jaya gets her happy ending, not by moving on and finding a new man or an ability to live alone, but by realizing why her marriage fell apart and fixing it. It helps, of course, that her husband also wishes to try again, picking up where they left off with renewed passion and an understanding of how to move forward.
Amisha’s love story is equally beautiful, though tragic. (Don’t worry, she gets a happy ending too). Now, let me pause here for a personal note. Amisha’s great love is not her husband. In fact, she has affair. While I do not condone infidelity, nor do I agree with Amisha’s actions, I do understand why she has an affair. Part of being human means we desire love and to be loved. Amisha felt like a baby maker and a maid to her husband and his family. Forced into an arranged marriage at fifteen, Amisha never knew what it was like to be loved by a man until she meets Stephen, a lieutenant in the British Raj. Once she is treated as an equal and with genuine friendly affection (at first), she easily falls victim to her desire to be with Stephen. She knows it is wrong, and she feels immense guilt for her feelings long before anything serious happens. However, with a negligent, cold husband, she finds herself unable to dismiss her feelings. As I watched Amisha’s struggles and joys play out, I cried with her, laughed with her, felt her heartache, and felt her fear, despite my being upset with her choice to have an affair. The intimate relations between characters were also tastefully done, and there were few of them. As a writer of clean fiction, it is important to me that the books I read are also clean (or at least mostly clean).
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I had to knock off ½ a star for the novel condoning infidelity.
Want a good book to read that is free of sex and infidelity? Check out my book Fate’s Arrangement at Amazon.