Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: Secrets and Sins

By Gail Allison
The first time. It’s a powerful thing, no matter what you’re talking about. The first time you walk. The first time you speak. And the first time you fall in love...well...that’s a thunderbolt that no one can forget. In “Secrets and Sins,” Jaishree Misra weaves a tale of what is, what was, and what could perhaps still be. She works through the tangled web of blood relatives, relatives by marriage, and best friends, all the while weaving a story that will leave you wondering “what would I have done?” It’s a scary question, but one that Ms. Misra addresses profoundly and unflinchingly, leaving the reader with a definite sense of closure at the end of the book, but with a spectrum of questions about themselves.

Riva Singh is a very accomplished author. Her latest book has received critical acclaim, and while she’s hard at work on the next book, the accolades keep rolling in. Her husband Ben was laid off from his bank job over a year ago, and is struggling to make it as an author. Riva’s seemingly easy success is a brilliant foil to Ben’s efforts, and Ben is seeing this himself, and starting to lash out at those he loves most. Riva’s latest claim to fame: she’s been asked to be a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival.

Riva’s sister Kaaya is married to a man who is incredibly attentive to her, but she doesn’t particularly care. She sees men as a challenge: if they appear to be uninterested, she will interest them, come what may. Her doting husband is away on business quite a bit, and has no idea about her extracurricular activities. Riva’s best friend Susan is married to her college sweetheart Joe. Susan and Joe have a seemingly unbreakable bond, but once Kaaya spots that challenge, she makes Joe her next target.

Aman Khan, Bollywood’s newest leading man, is trapped in a loveless marriage. He stays for a number of reasons: the son whom he can’t bear to leave behind and society’s expectations are the two biggest. He repeats again and again of his wife Salma throughout the book “I thought I could grow to love her”. In short: he can’t. Aman is still captivated by Riva, his first love from back at college.

Ms. Misra deftly illustrates the complexities of these various marriages, while bringing the book to its apex: Aman is also invited to be a jury member at Cannes. We find out throughout the book that Riva has been watching Aman’s rise via the magic of celluloid, and has seen all of his films two and three times. Her husband Ben has no idea. When Riva and Aman (inevitably) run into each other in Cannes, the spark is still there. Both of them can clearly remember what was once between them, but does that mean that it still could be?

This book delves into the complexities and the emotions that are caught up with being the initiator of an adulterous relationship in Kaaya, the feelings of being the spouse who has been wronged in Susan, and a myriad of other emotions in the triangle that Riva, Aman, and Ben end up forming.

There was a lot of British slang in this book, which could make for some very choppy reading if you weren’t used to it. Overall, though, I’d say the book rolled along nicely, really getting into how and why different characters were making their decisions, which was a refreshing point of view. When characters break down because they can’t deal with the staggering weight of their decisions, you’re right there with them, and understand completely what has caused the collapse. When characters worry about others, you know exactly why. Page after page, you learn not only what’s going on, but why it’s going on, and how everyone feels about it, without getting bogged down in touchy-feely language. Ms. Misra does a phenomenal job of keeping the story moving, while still giving you a real glimpse inside her characters on every page, which allows for some fantastically colourful character development.

If anyone has ever told you to “be careful what you wish for”, and you’ve wished it anyways, this book is for you. This book is captivating, the characters are very real, and at the end you can put it aside with a sigh, but the questions it cultivates will stay with you for a long, long time.

More by Jaishree Misra:

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