The Matchmaker's List
I was really looking forward to this book with its promise of cross-cultural highs and lows, an exploration of the immigrant experience, and a look at traditional arranged marriages in modern society. Unfortunately, it ultimately failed to live up to its pledge because the heroine quite sank the story.
Raina is biracial, having a barely-there Indian mother and an absent Caucasian father. She was born in Toronto when her mother was sixteen, and she has been raised by her traditional immigrant Indian grandparents. Raina spends all her life trying to be a good Indian girl while also fighting against the restrictions imposed by the expectations of her Nani’s (grandmother’s) culture.
She loves her Nani and wishes to not be a disappointment to her like her mother and uncle were. She gets good grades and a prestigious job in investment banking after college, but as a result, she feels like she never fit in with her classmates, who indulged in partying and casual relationships.
The only relationship of significance Raina has ever had was when she transferred to London for work in her mid-twenties. There she met British-Indian Dev, who was charismatic, clever, and a workaholic and who was only into casual, no-strings attached relationships. They are both in love and devoted to each other, but Dev is not interested in anything long-term. Heartbroken, Raina returns to the Toronto office, and her Nani hates Dev for crushing her darling’s hopes.
Nani loves Raina unrestrainedly and only wants the best for her. To Nani, nothing spells happiness like a family sitting around the dinner table laughing over a home-cooked meal. And this means marriage for Raina, something about which Nani has been reminding her constantly throughout her twenties. Finally, in desperation, Raina, says that if she isn’t married by the time she’s thirty, she will go through a modern arranged marriage as decreed by Nani.
I understand the intense pressure to marry that the Indian immigrant community puts on their offspring. They want to see their children settled and believe a spouse and children are the path to contentment. I also understand that the children born to these immigrants feel resentment for being pushed and prodded all their life and that they feel conflicting emotions of love and antagonism as they’re caught between the old country and new country.
This book is told in crisscrossing time periods. When the story opens, Raina is twenty-nine. She has never forgotten Dev, and she always holds out the possibility that someday… someday, he might be interested in something more with her. And so while she is in a holding pattern, she gives in to Nani’s pressure and agrees to meet up with the guys on the list she has compiled of available men in the local Indian community.
I expected Raina to tackle the guys on this list with humor and forbearance. Unfortunately, she acts like a brat, is prejudiced against the men from the outset and quick to judge. She does not make even a halfhearted attempt to do justice to them or to Nani’s feelings. The only reason she agrees to go meet these guys is to get Nani off her back.
In the meantime, Dev has once again flitted in and out of her life, and she’s back to that half-hope-half-agony state. So she is slow to fix her interest when she meets up with Asher, whom she had tangentially known when she was younger. Who will Raina fall in love with for her happy ever after? Is it to be Dev or Asher?
As I mentioned earlier, the heroine tanked the story. It’s clear from the way the book is written that we are meant to sympathize with Raina and follow her trials and tribulations with a smile. Unfortunately, I could not do it. She’s an utterly self-absorbed, selfish woman, who does not take the time to examine how her words and actions affect the people around her, and takes their care and love for granted. While there are moments when she is nice to them, most of the time, we hear her carping about them or saying and doing things that hurt or anger them. Her feelings and her concerns take up all her attention and she has none to spare even for Nani.
Nani is a saint. No matter what Raina does, she rises to the occasion with an excuse and offers understanding. Even when Raina lies, she forgives her. To some extent, it felt like Nani was trying to atone for the strictness that caused her estrangement from her own children by bending over backwards to accommodate Raina. And Raina willfully takes advantage of this.
The reason, this book gets a C and not a lower grade is because Lalli’s writing is good and she paints a clear picture of the conflicts immigrants and their first generation children face in their community and in the wider society. But the starring character ruined the story, and I cannot recommend The Matchmaker’s List to you all.