Married off at only four years old, Mili has never even met her husband. She knows he’s an officer in the Indian Air Force, and she’s done everything she can to grow into the perfect wife for him, but since leaving after their arranged marriage during childhood, he’s never returned for her. She’s certain, though, that when he does, when he sees the good, educated, modern yet traditional woman she has become, he will be more than pleased.
Samir’s memories of his childhood aren’t all good ones, especially when it comes to anything involving his grandfather. So learning that the farce of a marriage to which his brother was subjected was never annulled, even as his brother has since married and is expecting a child, shouldn’t surprise him. It’s now up to Samir to find Virat’s child bride and get her to release him from their absurd marriage and allow them to live the lives they’ve built for themselves.
Judging Covers: The cover is beautiful, and if you’ve seen a few Indian weddings — or watched enough Bollywood films — it makes perfect sense. I wonder, though, if other romance lovers who haven’t been exposed to that culture will even give it a second glance. To be honest, I probably would have looked right past it on Amazon, simply because I wouldn’t have immediately connected the henna and bangles with a potential love story. More likely I would have thought it was general fiction or even non-fiction, and I would have missed a great book. Had it not been for the word Bollywood, I would have overlooked an incredible story.
The Verdict: Let’s just get this out of the way now: A Bollywood Affair is going down as one of my favorite books of all time, and it seems unfair to categorize it as five stars when it’s clearly so much more. Upon turning the last page, I immediately want to read it again.
Mili was impossible not to love. She’s strong and humble, confident and inherently good. To say she lives meagerly is to grossly exaggerate her means. She sold everything of value to come to America and continue her education, living in a dumpy apartment with no furniture, a bare refrigerator, and little more than the hope that the husband she’s never met will send for her. In the meantime, she attends classes, washes dishes to make rent, and sends money she can’t afford back to India to take care of her grandmother. Where most romance heroines would lament the lack of food and spending money, Mili’s every breath is filled with hope and purpose.
Samir is easily the world’s best brother, and his family is simply incredible. He should be the half-American, illegitimate shame of his family, but his late father’s wife took him in without question and raised him with more love than most children ever know. A successful Bollywood film director, he’s become spoiled and selfish, but his true loyalty lies with his family. His brother Virat’s wife is expecting their first child when Samir and Virat learn that the “wife” their grandfather arranged for Virat when they were just children is apparently still in the picture, and Samir sets off to find this woman and cut their ties, so his brother’s true marriage will be legitimate. But what he finds is nothing like what he expected.
Their initial meeting is hilarious and sad, a strange combination that works beautifully. Mili thinks the Indian man who shows up at her door is her recently-eloped roommate’s brother, presumably looking for his sister and intent on breaking her away from her true love, and so she runs, wrecking her salvaged bicycle and hurting herself pretty badly in the process. Samir shows his heart in helping her and is at once entranced by her guilelessness and beauty. But legal notices his brother keeps receiving, each demanding a piece of their ancestral property, remind him constantly that for all her apparent goodness, Mili is a threat to their family.
Their romance is borne of uncertainty that blooms into friendship, as Mili blindly trusts Samir and he tries to find a way to reveal his identity and solve his brother’s problems. But the girl he gets to know disarms and captivates him, and the more he learns about her, the more difficult it is to separate his heart from his purpose. She eventually makes it clear that she’s already married and that any flirting he does is out of place, but that just seems to make it harder for him to deny his attraction to her.
I would imagine that some people would have trouble understanding Mili’s loyalty to a husband she doesn’t know, but I found that part of her character incredibly endearing. It’s clear that she was raised believing that was her purpose in life, to become the perfect wife for this man, and as she’s never seen any harm in the traditions she was taught to embrace, she’s never questioned it. There’s an intense respect for family and cultural heritage that is fascinating and altogether uncommon in modern times. I suppose it would have been more difficult to swallow had Mili not been such an intriguingly strong and independent character, but as she made her own way in the world, her clinging to a decades old promise simply added a new dimension to her.
Hidden among the friendship and romance, though, the book is also a subtle commentary on the ongoing break between tradition and modernization, the complicated place of women in modern Indian society, and the place of love among honor and culture. It’s not preachy; it simply presents the facts, and eye into a world many Americans only see through biased media stories and the occasional independent film, a way to get inside and view a rich, incredible culture through characters that are so classic and understandable that foreign concepts now make sense.
While Mili and Samir are extreme opposites, they bring out the best in each other. She brings out his heart and vulnerability, and he gives her tenacity purpose and eventually freedom. Of course, the truth eventually comes out — at the worst possible moment — and everything shatters, but the connection they’ve achieved can’t be abandoned. A Bollywood Affair is beautifully written, with wonderfully flawed characters, intense chemistry, and all the drama and humor of a Bollywood blockbuster film, leading to the perfect romantic ending. The story of Mili and Samir is universal, told in vivid detail with exceptional, emotional clarity and intense, undeniable chemistry. A Bollywood Affair is without a doubt a must-read for all romance lovers.