Perfectly Untraditional is the narrative of a young woman, a daughter, Shaili Kapoor, who has grown up in India. As the title suggests, there is something untraditional about Shaili, the protagonist, although her Indian name means 'tradition'. The book begins and ends at Pashan Lake in Pune, India. In this novel, Shaili, a 37-year-old writer based in NYC, returns to India because her mother, Meena, has drowned herself in the lake. When Shaili was younger, the lake was a favorite destination for Shaili and her mother, who would often go there together, without the knowledge or company of her father, Suresh, or her younger sister, Tanisha.
"Shaili had dreamed of chopping off her father's tongue and arms one night when he was asleep. She stormed out of the living room and sat on her bed grumbling. Mrs. Kapoor followed her inside while Tanisha stood uninterestedly int he kitchen speculating if her arms needed waxing."
~Perfectly Untraditional, Sweta Srivastava Vikram
At Pashan Lake, Shaili meets her father in an attempt to comprehend her mother's suicide and to work toward a reconciliation with her father. Armed with two friends, Supriya, a longtime Indian friend, and Leila, a Persian friend from NYC, Shaili confronts her father for the first time in many years. It is a meeting fraught with tension and emotion. All along, she has had problems with her father while growing up, as she hated his treatment of her mother, which became brutal whenever he drank too much. The book goes back in time, and tells Shaili's story in the third person, although I felt as if I were experiencing Shaili's journey with her, and I rooted for her happiness and success.
Throughout the novel, Shaili is finding out things about her family and herself that were previously hidden. This process, as we know, is not always easy and often murky. In the book, Shaili has mixed feelings about marrying Sadhil, an extremely handsome Indian man her father has "found" for her to marry. Although Sadhil is very nice and would provide Shaili with an exciting new life in NYC, something does not feel quite right to Shaili. Her parents don't exactly force her to marry Sadhil, yet Shaili struggles intensely with her feelings and balks at the idea of marriage to this seemingly ideal man--and she is not sure why.
Sweta Srivastava Vikram presents a sensitive portrait of a young woman who is discovering who she is within and beyond the context of her family. The Kapoors are a traditional family in India, and Shaili herself is traditional in certain ways. For example, she expresses her love through food and cooking, which is especially important to Indian women. But, in other ways she is decidedly untraditional, and as she realizes that she's different, she also realizes that a traditional life is not in store for her.
Perfectly Untraditional is an enthralling, passionate novel about a young woman from a country and culture that I enjoyed learning about. I read it quickly over the course of a few nights, and recommend it to those who like character-driven fiction with strong female characters.
In celebration of the release of her first novel, the author is graciously offering an autographed copy of Perfectly Untraditional as a giveaway to a reader (U.S. only).
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Enter by 5PM PDT on Monday, June 13. One winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Tuesday, June 14. Good luck!
Special thanks to Sweta Srivastava Vikram for sending me her novel.