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At nineteen, Layla is told by her parents in America that a marriage to an engineer has been arranged for her in India. Despite initially feeling a great sense of belonging amongst her new family, she is soon forced to make painful decisions about her role as a Muslim, wife and woman. Set against a back-drop of mounting Hindu-Muslim disputes, Layla finds herself torn between clashing identities and ideals.
Samina Ali was born in Hyderabad, India, and was raised in both India and the United States.
In this painstakingly detailed but strained debut, Ali explores the stifling world of Indian Muslim domestic life and the odd partnership forged by husband and wife in an arranged marriage fraught with secrets. As the novel begins, Layla, a 20-something Muslim who grew up mostly in the United States, is preparing for her marriage in Hyderabad, India, to Sameer, a man she barely knows. The elaborate ceremonies leading up to the wedding day are undercut by Layla's memories of her secret American boyfriend and by her painful cramps as she suffers through a prolonged miscarriage. Family tensions also mount-Layla's bitter divorced mother rails at her father, who has remarried-but Layla soldiers on, eventually warming to Sameer, a good-looking engineer with modern ideas of his own. After the wedding, the young couple grow steadily closer, but Layla is unable to coax Sameer to consummate the marriage. At first she thinks she is to blame, but on their honeymoon trip to Madras, she learns differently from an unexpected visitor. As Ali shows, it is not only American-raised Muslims who are seduced by Western ideals of independence and romantic love; in the end, Sameer and Layla make a complex, unconventional peace. Striving laudably for subtlety, but never quite managing to achieve a natural rhythm, Ali loses her readers with earnest, stilted conversation and exposition. At the novel's climax, the introduction of yet another weighty but insufficiently digested theme-Hindu-Muslim violence-gives the tale an extra edge of darkness. Author appearances in New York and San Francisco. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
"'Samina Ali has created, in her first novel, a compelling story filled with psychological insight and a deep understanding of the conflicts that plague all of us who inhabit two worlds at the same time' Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of The Mistress of Spices 'With her debut novel, Madras on Rainy Days, Samina Ali makes a bold entrance on the scene of American immigrant literature. Ali is a compelling storyteller. In language that is at once lyrical and unsentimental, she explores both the upside and the downside of being a first generation Muslim Indo-American woman, trapped between the demands of competing cultural heritages. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the multicultural fabric of contemporary America' Bharati Mukherjee, author of Desirable Daughters: A Novel"