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Portrait of a Woman Madly in Love
Boman Desai, author
Farida Cooper is too shocked by her husband's treachery even to talk about it, but in hiding her shame succeeds only in denying the damage to herself and making casualties of others, among them an infatuated 17-year-old boy. Farida is vivacious, intelligent, beautiful, talented, rich, spoiled, and selfish, but her life is hardly as rosy as it appears. Her father's affairs render her mother frigid. Her saving grace is her Kaki with whom she lives after her sixth birthday, but this also heightens the sense of her parents' indifference and she learns to show nothing of her feelings, allowing them instead to erupt years later in a series of disastrous choices. Her story shuttles between Bombay and Chicago, spanning the years from WWII to the 1980s, illuminating themes of love and marriage, feminism and friendship, art and academia.
Betrayed by her husband, Farida Cooper of Bombay, the heir to a massive and quite publicly known fortune, endeavors to live a life of her own, not knowing that doing so may prove more painful than she expects. Having had everything she has ever needed but longing for success on her own terms, Farida sets her sights on academia, moves to the U.S., and falls in love—all of which come with inevitable heartache and trouble. Committed to being independent, Farida’s hopes of becoming a writer–she lands a story in The Atlantic–and later artist are thwarted when she is sidetracked by other plans, namely love. When she falls for a young man who’s “trim with the effortlessness only a teenager could manage,” she must face the tensions stirred up by such an affair, specifically family and society.

Set against the changing times of the middle of the 20th century, Desai's intimate novel digs into pressing themes of love, marriage divorce, education, and feminism as it weaves the threads of its determined protagonist’s quest for independence. Through the lens of a Parsi woman, Desai explores cultural and familial expectations. Desai's third-person narrative style is largely based on detailing intimate thoughts and letting readers overhear much character dialogue. The novel is long, but Desai invests such telling detail and engaging context into the telling, that readers of novels about women in the world will remain immersed, caught up in descriptions that are simple and beautiful.

Protagonist Farida is fully developed, and her psyche is absorbing. Due to the complexity of Farida’s life, readers may at times even want more of her on the page, and Desai doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to setting up secondary characters. Readers of romance will find the plot familiar, though the love story takes a backseat to Farida’s ups and downs, which will ring true to anyone familiar with what it takes to break from family culture or face heartache.

Takeaway: A Bombay heiress spirals into academia, the U.S., and a surprising romance in this culture-crossing novel.

Great for fans of: Bharati Mukherjee, Rishi Reddi.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B