Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Invitation by Anne Cherian

Title: The Invitation
Author: Anne Cherian
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 304
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary fiction
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

I am a cover page person. I do judge a book by its cover. Though in this case, I was not drawn by its cover page, rather I picked this book on a whim, without any expectations. And this book sure took me by surprise. This immigrant fiction is about a group of four friends, complete with their imperfections, the hidden truths, their insecurities and everyday real issues about family.

Frances, Jay, Lali and Vikram, all Indian immigrants, meet at UCLA. The author takes time to dwell into the lives, present and past, of each of these characters. I was instantly drawn to their stories.

Frances and Jay (or Jayant Bakshi) are college sweethearts who married right after finishing college. They have three children – Mandy, Lily and Sam. Frances is a real estate agent, while Jay works in the middle management for a computer company. The couple, who considered themselves the best during college, is struggling to provide a decent lifestyle to their family while also trying to understand the dramatic change in their first born, typical of teenage years.

Vikram, the prodigious son of a farmer, starts his own computer company after completing his course at UCLA, and is a successful entrepreneur. Though successful in terms of money, he is battling his own childhood issues, imposing his aspirations on his MIT graduate son Nikhil. He is married to Priya; their marriage arranged by their parents.

Lali married Jonathon, a cardiologist and has a son Aaron. The perfect harmony in Lali’s marriage is troubled by Jonathan’s sudden interest in his religion. She finds herself distanced from her husband due to his new-found passion. As is beautifully put in the narrative “… he had parted the curtains to his own religion, and she found herself offstage.” This growing distance momentarily clouds her judgement and she starts corresponding with an ex from college. She is also peeved about her son’s decision to take a break from his course at Harvard.

The individual stories lead up to the party that Vikram is throwing to celebrate his son Nikhil’s graduation from MIT. All of them are going to meet after 25 years, so they are apprehensive about their relative success or failure in their personal and professional lives while also extremely curious to know about each other.  

For most of the book, I loved the way the author has let the characters unfold for her readers. I found the writing rich and nuanced, while the narrative was engaging.
The ending seemed a bit hurried though. There were quite a few unanswered questions and loose ends.
If you have not read the book, skip this part and explore for yourself because I don’t want to cloud your judgement; but if you have read the book, read on to see if your thoughts echo in mine. A few questions which came to my mind at the end:

  • Jonathan had been making his own plans for several weeks, but inexplicably he agrees to join Lali for the party. I was sure he would decline.
  • The Rich chapter was not closed. Why he never came back to marry Frances? Though he was not a major character in the book but his story remained incomplete. There should have been a logical closure.
  • The Aakash chapter was not closed either. We never get to know the other person’s perspective. Somehow I got the feeling that he was a good guy but misunderstood. We never get to know.
  • Mandy’s change in behavior remained unexplained. Like Frances and Jay, we have to assume that she wanted to break the stereotype, as pointed out by Nikhil; but we never get to know for sure.
  •  It was also not too clear why Jay and Frances were not doing well financially.
Another minor issue was the way in which each character would spiral into their past for too long, holding the flow of the central story for quite a long time.

I have pointed out a few points but those are really not the big issues when you read the book. I definitely loved the book for the level of engagement it provides. I loved the author’s writing style and I am certainly going to read her first book – a Good Indian Wife. The first books are usually the best works.

P.S. I also could not locate anything ‘about the author’.

Book courtesy: Hachette India
Image source: Amazon


  1. Sounds very interesting!!
    I judge a book by its cover too!! :D

    1. I will certainly recommend it since you like fiction. The story is quite engaging and fast-paced.

  2. Well said Reema! i agree - I think this is a good read. And yes, I like the "American" version of the cover more too, although sarees are a tad overused when depicting desi tales here.

    1. Hi Amodini, thank you for dropping by! Yes, I see what you are saying. I think you mentioned in your review that both the author's books have similar cover page.