Love Comes Later
Location, location, location. That’s a popular mantra which discusses what is believed to be the most important selling point of any piece of property. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of it in terms of real estate sales but it‘s certainly an important selling point to me vis-à-vis book buying. That’s because I love armchair adventuring, exploring a culture through the eyes and words of writers. Love Comes Later added an important “stamp” to my armchair adventuring passport – I had never before read a love story set in Qatar. While this book is technically more women’s fiction than romance, the whole of the story revolves around love and marriage; how our culture influences our thoughts, feelings and actions regarding that issue and how, sometimes, our heart throws all that influence out the window.
Life can turn on a dime. Abdulla’s mind is full of work when he comes home one fateful afternoon, fully expecting to find his wife and a hot meal waiting for him. What he hears are the cries of wailing women. Assuming something has happened to his mother or one of his older Aunties, he approaches only to learn it is his wife and unborn child who have died in a horrible car accident. As if that weren’t bad enough, on the day of the funeral one of his uncles leaves his own wife and causes yet more turmoil in the family. In Abdulla’s mind grief and heartache become linked to the word marriage. He knows he will never love or wed again.
That’s the plan anyway. His culture (and family) dictate a different course. As the oldest grandchild of a successful man he needs to bring fresh male heirs into the clan. They allow him a three year mourning period and then arrange a marriage with his cousin Hind. The two barely know each other but the pressure on both of them is severe. When Hind insists on being allowed to do a master’s course in London before the wedding, Abdulla agrees with some relief. The yearlong separation will give him time to find an adequate excuse to end the engagement.
Hind is both delighted and annoyed to have her condition met. Delighted to do the course she is interested in, annoyed that she is allowed to do so only because Abdulla has agreed to the arrangement. Male control of her life is one of the things she looks forward to leaving behind while in England. London provides her other freedoms undreamt of at home, such as friendships her mother would likely not approve of. Her roommate a friendly, liberated Indian-American woman named Sangita is one such person. All is bliss for Hind until the clock starts counting down towards her wedding date. Realizing that time is running out, she takes a huge risk and plans a fling which will give her a chance to determine what she wants from life.
Abdulla, on the other hand, knows exactly what he wants – to stop the marriage. When he realizes it is do or die time he takes a furtive trip to London planning to speak to Hind and work out a way to avoid their nuptials. But it is not Hind who answers the apartment door and meeting the woman who does changes the course of his entire life.
One of the things I love about this book is the balance it achieves between pointing out the flaws in the life style of Qatar and accepting said lifestyle as a work in progress. It is clear that the culture is completely chauvinistic and unjustly authoritarian against women. The author does a good job, though, of pointing that out without coming down in harsh judgment on the people trapped in the system. Abdulla may have more freedom than Hind or even Sangita but he is not completely autonomous. He too has to bow to the authority of his elders and family expectations. While he has many more perks than the ladies in his life, he also has many more responsibilities. Ms. Rajakumar just does a fabulous job of showing the balances within the culture as well as the problems, and also of showing that the younger generation embraces modern technology as well as carefully integrating more modern thinking in how society is handled. There is no loud call for female equality but moves are definitely being made in that direction.
Equally fabulous was reading a book which embraced the religion of Islam as it is practiced by ordinary people. Abdulla knows all the right words and has a complete understanding of his faith but in practice he is far more lax than the older people in his family. Much of the younger generation is the same. Watching a young boy get chewed out for being at McDonald’s during Ramadan, hearing of a young girl skipping fasting because she is on her period – these small nuances are what make up the real life of people of faith and the details added depth to the characters. I hate when the Middle East, which has a culture so intertwined with the faith of its people, is stripped of that important factor and encountering it here was a complete joy.
Another bonus is how the ideas of love, marriage and romance are examined. There is the look at a typical marriage – the one Abdulla had with his first wife – and there is also a look at the practical side of how you handle arranged marriages when you know all your life that they are coming. Then we explore what happens when love gets in the way of plans. Both Abdulla and Hind care about their families and want to do the right thing but in the case of their marriage, what is being asked of them conflicts seriously both with what they want and what they need. When Abdulla falls in love with someone else the issues between him and Hind become even more pronounced and it clearly becomes even more important that they find a way to break the engagement.
I also really enjoyed how the love story is captured here. There is attraction of course but the main emphasis is on the enjoyment of each other’s company and the mutual admiration of the other’s intelligence, charm and kindness. A soul deep connection is what I look for in a love story and that is what I found here.