China Room by Sunjeev Sahota
Reviewed by August Cosentino
Star-crossed love is sexy. It sells books. Inspires great literature and unforgettable movies. And it can happen anywhere—from Verona to Moscow to the tiniest village in India.
In Sanjeev Sahara’s exquisite “China Room,” set in 1920s British India, Mehar is a young village girl who was promised, at the age of five, to a wealthier family with three sons to marry off. The sons’ mother Mai is a stern no-nonsense matron who selects bridal candidates much as you might buy oxen to plow your field. “She’ll do,” she tells Mehar’s parents grudgingly.
Ten years later, Mai returns to the village to retrieve her “purchase.” Mehar and the two other young bridal candidates live in a separate part of the estate, where they are required to carry out a series of menial tasks while they wait to be married. They must wear veils at all times when addressing the sons. Oh, and the girls do not know which son they have been promised to in marriage.
“Handmaid’s Tale,” anybody?
Mehar learns she is designated to be the wife for Jeet, but over the course of time, discovers she is much more attracted to the handsome younger son Suraj.
The book’s secondary plot is set in modern times, as Mehar’s unruly great-grandson, who lives in England,
is sent by his Indian parents to stay with an uncle in India, where he develops a passion for a young female doctor who is twice his age.
Whether these star-crossed love affairs are resolved to the reader’s satisfaction will not be revealed here. What is worthy of discussion is Sahota’s jewel-like prose—his ability to paint pictures of the natural beauty in the rural, untraveled parts of the Subcontinent—so enticing you’ll want to put down the book, grab your phone, and book the next flight out to India, COVID be damned.
Until we can travel the world freely again, I suggest you do the next best thing and pick up the novel that will take you continents away from wherever you are. Including your phone. Namaste, Sanjeev Sahota.