A Hindu-American woman from Chicago who is tired of love affairs which lead nowhere accepts her mother's offer of an arranged marriage and flies to India to meet the groom. But the heroine, artist Sharmila Sen, is a liberated woman and the novel chronicles her disappointments. By the author of Shiva Dancing.
begins to appreciate the Indian side of her heritage even more, eating new foods, speaking Hindu and dressing in traditional style clothing. Still, she can’t help but feel constricted by this foreign culture’s rules, which women must abide by, and the separation of social classes. Drawing closer to the Khosla family, Sharmila uncovers secrets that have been kept locked away for years, which cause her dismay. Even her seemingly perfect husband to be begins to fall apart over time. Her only solace is her friendship with the family chauffeur, Prem. Her conflicted emotions make her question her eventual marriage and herself. Sharmila realizes, “What do I know of life? Of love? Of suffering?”
Every page of Sharmila’s Book, a novel by Bharti Kirchner, emits character, love and deep emotion. While Sharmila endeavors to find a man both her equal and still retaining his heritage, one can imagine oneself by her side, seeing it all play out, like a chess game. Each move is planned perfectly and the language helps particularly well in the consistency and fluidity of the writing. Utilizing Hindu as a way to meld the cultures provides a learning experience for both Sharmila and the reader. For example, the ending which the servants addressed Sharmila by was memsahib, but as they became closer, they dropped the ending and simply called her by her name, which expressed their growing friendship. The style of writing that Kirchner uses, vivid descriptions and humanity poured into the pages, is also played up by the language, which is the axis that the book revolves around.
This book proves that without love, “You are left without breath, light, or hope. You don’t hear music anymore … Your world is like a desert.” People won’t only want to read this once or twice, but many times, extended over their life because it will never lose its meaning. With precision, insight and an eye for the human spirit, Bharti Kirchner creates a masterful tale of diversity in love, marriage and life. -J.C.