A 5+1 Review of Sonali Dev's "Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors"

If one were looking for the origin of the modern-day romance novel, they’d land more often than not on Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s novel is as seminal as Frankenstein or Dracula or Oliver Twist, and has had as much impact on Western pop culture. In fact, while the others’s impact has been through extensions and mutations of the base work, I’d say Pride and Prejudice has the distinction of living on through numerous re-tellings and adaptations that take care to preserve the base storyline.

Sonali Dev’s first four novels, from A Bollywood Affair to A Distant Heart, are easily some of my favourite books of all time. Dev writes with an apparent ease that sucks us into her characters and their stories. I always found myself breathless at the end of each of these four, wondering How in hell … ? But a happy ending is always achieved, and always arrived at with conviction and satisfaction. It’s hard to call these ‘romance novels’ in the same breath as calling the ‘90s Mills & Boons the same. It’s like comparing granite countertops to Formica ones printed with a granite-like pattern.

The marriage of the two was, I suppose, inevitable. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is the exceedingly enjoyable outcome.

PPOF differs from the original in the following ways:

  • Set in America, in the San Francisco Bay Area

  • Desi heroine and a half-Anglo Indian, half-Rwandan, all-British hero

  • No mother trying to get all her daughters married off

  • Gender-flipped! Trisha Raje (i.e.: Darcy) gets to be all arrogant and misunderstood! DJ Caine (i.e.: Lizzy Bennet) gets to be all precious and judgy!

I’m not going to trace the storyline here, but I will tell you (bastardising a much-beloved fanfic tradition) five things I loved about this book and one that I did not.

Things I Loved:

One. Rich, powerful, Indian-American family. The Rajes used to be royalty several generations ago. Then the British colonised India, India became a republic, and royalty were entitled no more. But the Rajes, spurred by their patriarch, Shree Hari Raje, and his mother, maintain the ambition and sense of noblesse oblige even in their second-generation immigrant offspring.

Two. Family. This is not unique to PPOF among Dev’s novels. If there’s one thing she writes as well as chemistry between the leading pair, it’s loving families. She doesn’t shy away from how desi familial relationships can be complicated and demanding, but hers are ultimately always loving and supportive. Reading her novels can often feel like coming home at the end of a long, tiring day.

Three. Desiness. One other thing that is common to Dev’s novels, and something she takes to new heights in PPOF, is all the many different ways in which someone can be desi. There’s your run-of-the-mill desi grad student Mili of A Bollywood Affair; your ABCDs Vikram and Nikhil of A Bollywood Bride and A Change of Heart, respectively; Nepali Jess/Nikki of A Change of Heart; part-time American with an Indian passport Ria of A Bollywood Bride; and homegrown desis Samir, Rahul & Kimi of A Bollywood Affair & A Distant Heart, respectively. Here, we have the ABCDs of the Raje family, but we also have DJ Caine, who is half-Anglo Indian, but gets his desiness from looking after Ammaji, an elderly Punjabi lady, in return for his family living rent-free. Ammaji teaches him how to cook Punjabi food, kindling a lifelong passion. It’s clear how desi he is especially in contrast to his sister Emma, who did not have the same relationship with Ammaji: a strong, unmistakeable statement on how heritage is not blood.

Four. Social awareness of various kinds of privilege—and lack thereof. Dev deals with Trisha’s privilege at having grown up in an enormously rich and powerful family, where DJ has struggled all his life with money and the colour of his skin. And with the sexism in DJ’s quick judgement of Trisha’s awkwardness and pride as arrogance.

Five. The Immigrant Story. For years, the Immigrant Story of struggle and ultimate triumph—the attainment of the American Dream—was a niche that overwhelmingly-white American publishing tended to push non-white authors into. Dev writes this story into the background of her books, always present, but never the point. In PPOF, this aspect of her writing reaches a particular zenith, with Trisha’s brother, Yash Raje’s very deserving ambition of running for Governor of California.

One Thing I Liked Less:

This is difficult to express because I can’t quite place my finger on it. PPOF is such a sprawl of diverse, complex threads that come to such a satisfying conclusion, that it seems almost like missing the point. But I’m going to try my best.

The in-the-moment depictions of Trisha and Dj’s relationship was less satisfying than in Dev’s earlier novels. Like I said, it’s hard to pinpoint. The overall story is great, the evolution of the relationship is great … but you have to think about it a minute. You don’t just dive into it like you do into Trisha’s other relationships, DJ’s other relationships, or Dev’s other lead pairs’ relationships with each other. When looking at the whole novel, it feels like a minor point; but when you think of it as a romance novel, it feels huge. It’s not even going to stop me from reading this book over and over again, but it does place this one below the other four on this particular axis, for me.

So concludes my 5+1 review. Pick up this novel; you won’t be disappointed.

Shweta Adhyam