Desert Isle Keeper
Marriage by Arrangement
I was in the mood for something deliciously romantic, and Marriage by Arrangement certainly delivered. I initially picked this book up because of its gorgeous cover, but the story within was equally enchanting. The author deftly explores workplace romance, cross-class issues and cultural pressures to deliver a very satisfying read.
Rani Gupta is an ambitious junior architect in Las Vegas, and landing a key role on Arjun Singh’s first US hotel could launch her career, putting her closer to her dream of owning her own design firm. Based primarily in India, Arjun is a wealthy businessman from a very traditional family, who is considered by the press to be India’s hottest bachelor. While he immediately catches Rani’s attention, she suspects a decidedly middle-class divorcée with baggage isn’t quite what he would be looking for.
It’s clear from the early moments of the relationship that Arjun likes Rani for who she is, and that he isn’t interested in changing her. It’s equally obvious that Rani feels insecure about being short, slightly overweight and darker skinned, but Arjun makes it clear that he finds her very attractive as she is. Rani’s moments of insecurity are painful, but I liked seeing her grow in confidence without the novel containing a major makeover scene.
Another aspect of the story that makes this book really work comes from the characters’ world. Throughout the novel, the author places scenes that remind us Arjun and Rani have a very real project to work on. We see Rani creating designs and showing them off to the client, and we see some of the difficult workplace politics she has to navigate. We also see Rani and Arjun trying to build a relationship, while also dealing with family expectations that place incredible pressure on any bond they may create. Rani’s divorce has caused estrangement from some of her family while Arjun, on the other hand, comes from a traditional family that has planned a dynastic marriage for him.
Much of the tension in this book comes not only from Rani and Arjun dealing with their own differences, but also with the various ways in which they have to manage each other’s family expectations. This book not only addresses differences between American and Indian cultures, but also the class differences between each of the main character’s families. I am not Indian, so I cannot speak to how accurately the different cultures are portrayed, but I did find the interplay between the leads and their families compelling reading.
Given Arjun’s wealth, this book could have been written as a fairytale romance, but instead, it takes on the fairytales with a twist. Things don’t always go smoothly, and the main characters constantly have to adjust their assumptions about each other. Both characters misjudge situations and make cringe-inducing mistakes. This is particularly true near the end when Arjun makes a major decision without consulting Rani first, making her feel powerless.
So, why did I still like Marriage by Arrangement so much? Both Arjun and Rani have enough maturity to recognize their mistakes, and instead of spending chapter after chapter in the throes of a Big Mis, they talk things out. This book has a pattern of the leads being drawn together, some circumstance pushing them apart, and then there’s a discussion and regroup that strengthens their bond even more. This pattern of events happens again and again, with slight variations, until HEA feels downright inevitable.