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5.0 out of 5 stars A sad, sad book, Sept. 22 2010
This review is from: Immigrant, The (Paperback)
This is actually the story not of one but of two immigrants from India, Nina and Ananda. But it is the vulnerable Nina with whom the author clearly sympathizes and with whom, I guess, she feels a sense of feminist sisterhood. Ananda has his own vulnerabilities and one has to feel sorry for him without ever liking him.

After the death of his parents, Ananda had gone to Halifax, Nova Scotia to work as a dentist. He had no intention of going back to live in India and wanted nothing more than to become a proper Canadian. We see the adjustments he had to make to life in Canada. He did quite well; but the one thing he did not seem to manage was to establish a relationship with a Canadian girl. Back in India, his sister was trying to find him a wife. A matchmaker put her in touch with Nina's mother.

Nina is an academic in Delhi, whose "spiritual home is Europe". She is beautiful but unmarried, living in straitened circumstances with her widowed mother who is desperately anxious for Nina to find a husband. Nina has so far resisted all her mother's attempts, but at thirty she is herself beginning to feel desperate also.

Ananda flies to Delhi to see Nina; and though each of them is irritated by the pressures exerted by his sister and by her mother, Ananda has no doubts, and Nina, whose feelings are much more complex, eventually accepts him. The events around the wedding are beautifully described: already, though still in India, Nina is taken out of the world to which she was accustomed.

In Canada she has much more trouble adjusting than Ananda had had; and Ananda, with his own deep-seated insecurities, is insensitive, "never understood a word she was saying", and is unhelpful. It would give too much away to go into details; but Nina's lonely, isolated, jobless, sexually frustrated and childless life is filled with great sadness.

We learn, graphically, about the problem which most troubles Ananda and about his attempts to overcome it - but that scarcely helps Nina, who eventually seeks help for herself - and that does not please Ananda. But they both feel `liberated' to do things they would not have done before - and find that there is a heavy price to pay.

An engrossing, but a sad, sad book. I read into it a suggestion that in India the extended family provides such a strong communal life that an unhappy arranged marriage would not lead to the isolation that Nina experiences in Canada. If that is what the author is wanting to convey, I think that would be a generalization both about India and about Canada. But it is certainly true of the particular situation in this novel.
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