Sep. 21st, 2013

dorothean: detail of painting of Gandalf, Frodo, and Gimli at the Gates of Moria, trying to figure out how to open them (Default)
[personal profile] dorothean
[personal profile] deepad has organized a reading club for novels by Anuja Chauhan, with copies of The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, and Those Pricey Thakur Girls circulating by mail. (Other reactions to these books collected by [personal profile] deepad.) I've just read Battle for Bittora, wherein Jinni, a young woman who's been working in advertising and keeping her distance from her famous political family, winds up in a MP race against her childhood best friend. Here's my review (originally posted on Goodreads):

Battle for Bittora is very more-ish -- I barely put it down since I took it out of the mailbox yesterday afternoon. It also made me laugh out loud a lot. I'm not sure I've ever read a book about politics before that was so much fun.

I love stories that go into gory details about some kind of work or play that the author is clearly familiar with. Here it's political campaigning (and, in the beginning, a little bit of commercial animation). I found that my limited knowledge of Indian political history and electoral issues wasn't really a problem, and as to election mechanics, well, the well-justified cynicism I grew right here at home was perfectly sufficient.

The political campaign is the first mover of everything in this novel, with a romance and a grandmother, mother, and daughter's story following closely to the same quick music.

As to the romance, I was a little dubious at first because of Zain's rather aggressive treatment of Jinni, but quickly won over. Your mileage may vary but I thought there was a nice balance between "they are destined for each other for so many reasons!" and the sense that Jinni is defined by much more than whom and how she loves. (skip spoiler)
I think Chauhan resolved it very nicely -- post-election resentments dissolved; accusations of betrayal determined to be not unfounded, but equally applicable to both; prospects of excellent complementary political teamwork established. And she left them plenty of things to argue about, which I'm sure they will need.

The three generations of Pande women are wonderful. I loved reading Jinni's interactions with Pushpa Pande, which even more than the romance are the beating heart of the story: loyalty, exasperation, experience, defiance, the limits of sympathetic understanding, the secret limitlessness of love. All with plenty of humor.

The Ladies Finger perfectly describes how Anuja Chauhan is funny: "The woman has many levels of humour. Situation, one-liners, gags, man-hits-tomato-cart and just beautiful knee-deep absurdity." It is really impressive how much humor she could fit into this novel, which after all has a lot of serious stuff: Jinni witnesses all kinds of suffering, injust situations, and even violence which will sit heavily on her shoulders should she win the election -- and then there's the ongoing portrayal of political life which deals with this responsibility mainly by empty campaign promises -- plus lots of Issues like sexism in campaigning and Hindu-Muslim tensions -- and then (skip spoiler)
the death of a major character
But it is funny, and mostly tastefully and inoffensively so (at least from the perspective of this non-Indian, can't-read-the-bits-that-aren't-in-English reader*).

All this, and Chauhan also manages to include plenty of great minor characters, some of whom have real depth. My favorites are campaign funds manager Gudia aunty (so much more than the rather insensitive comic relief I first pegged her as) and crack team member Munni (her cynical competence! her anger!).

In short -- the funniest, most thoughtful, sweetest, and overall best chick-lit novel I have ever read.

* The humor I had the most complicated reaction to was the very first scene, in which Jinni's gay coworker is horrifying her with his theory that all her favorite superheroes are gay. On one hand, adorable, comics fandom on page 1! On the other hand, eek, being grossed-out is not a good reaction, Jinni! On the foot, I shouldn't be a hypocrite, my own first reaction to slash fanfic was much like Jinni's.

But this turned out not to count for much because then Pushpa Pande swept into the building and I was hooked.


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