Unfortunately, almost from the beginning, I found myself not only being irritated in the way she presented the story, but actively disliking one of the main characters, Anju. It seemed that whatever situation she was placed in made her more bitter and more angry. Through this character, I felt as though the author had succombed to the temptation of creating an image of India and its society as --- backward, miserable, oppressive. Through Anju, the reader was made to feel as though what had happened to her was the result of centuries of tradition (the arranged marriage process; the need to have a child but feeling guilty because she really didn't feel she wanted one; then feeling guilty and beating up on herself - figuratively - when she loses the baby) gone wrong; that if she had come from a different society (namely, Western society seen as more progressively forward thinking), she would not have gone through the emotions and reactions that she went through. She would not accept responsibility for her actions nor for the consequences that resulted; choosing instead, to blame others.
While the character of Sunil, the husband, was made not to be the stereotypical abusive or patriarchal Indian man, it took me awhile to warm up to him and feel sympathy for his dilemma. I think this was mainly because I was bracing myself for the inevitable part where he would revert to that stereotype, thus simultaneously disappointing me and confirming my fears. In the end, however, when I realized that Divakaruni was not going to turn him into some form of patriarchal "monster", I was more sympathetic to what he was experiencing - both in his relationships with his father and Anju his wife, and in his dealings with Sudha. I really liked it that Divakaruni had him form a bond with baby Dayita, Sudha's daughter.
Again, where I should have felt some measure of empathy with a character, I could not completely do so, even with Sudha. I could well understand her desire for getting free of a marriage, societal obligations, being confused emotionally. Had she been made to stand up more strongly to Anju with regard to her behavior, if the passages describing her emotional and mental turmoil had been written in less whiny tones, if she had admitted that she had come to the United States for the wrong reasons and therefore she was going back regardless, I could have felt a measure of respect and a sense that here at least was one character in the book who was free from the melodrama that the others seem to be plagued with.
Another disconcerting factor which concerns the style of the book was the way Divakaruni abruptly threw in a chapter on an exchange of letters: letters to the parents, letters from the parents, letters to Anju, Sudha, and Sunil, letters from a dejected lover....I found it quite jarring, throwing the continuity and fluidity of the story into disarray. Also out of place were the little essays Anju wrote for her English class, along with the professors' comments which were neither erudite nor insightful. The essays did nothing for the story, and only served to confirm the self-pitying "woe is me" pattern she had allowed herself to fall into. I wondered, when I read them, was Divakaruni trying to show how much of a monster Sunil really was, or was she trying to show that he was not a monster but rather, Anju - as was her habit - was in continual denial and given into her grief and anger completely, thus creating her husband into an unfeeling monster?
All in all, I found the book to be tedious and repetitious, with an overall tone of self-pity and whining that I found so annoying that it was difficult to read through the chapters without giving into the urge to shelve it or throw it away. None of the characters were attractive or likeable: the 3 main characters, Lalit the doctor (I thought that he was more of an impediment to the whole story, as if Divakaruni wanted to introduce some sort of "love" interest into Sudha's life to show that she was not completely "dead" to the possibility of romance), Myra and Trideep, the couple for whom Sudha works, even the woman who first tells Sudha about the job caring for Trideep's incapacitated father. Only the father was someone I felt genuine sympathy and liking for. I loved the way he resisted the efforts of his estranged son and daughter-in-law to get him to eat, to live a little; his way of protesting the way his son had treated him, because he knew that his son was only doing what he did out of guilt. I loved the way Divakaruni had him and Dayita, Sudha's daughter, interact and her description of that interaction. And I was happy that she had him able to finally make plans to return to India, and to plan for a happier, fuller life there.
Book Description: The Vine of Desire continues the story of Anju and Sudha, the two young women at the center of Divakaruni's bestselling novel Sister of My Heart. Far from Calcutta, the city of their childhood, and after years of living separate lives, Anju and Sudha rekindle their friendship in America. The deep-seated love they feel for each other provides the support each of them needs. It gives Anju the strength to pick up the pieces of her life after a miscarriage, and Sudha the confidence to make a life for herself and her baby daughter, Dayita-without her husband. The women's bond is shaken to the core when they must confront the deeply passionate feelings that Anju's husband has for Sudha. Meanwhile, the unlikely relationships they form with men and women in the world outside the immigrant Indian community as well as with their families in India profoundly transform them, forcing them to question the central assumptions of their lives.
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