Book review – Marrying Anita

One of the benefits of leading an interesting life is that you can get a book out of it. Anita Jain, who has had a long and varied career as a global journalist, turns her wry observation skills on herself. After failing at the New York dating scene, Anita decides to go back to India and “arrange” a marriage for herself, using the help of friends, family and online matrimonial sites.

She quickly settles into the Delhi party and clubbing scene but the suitable boy keeps eluding her. Many almost-Prince Charmings and more Ugly Ducklings later, her quest to connect is still alive as she bids the reader goodbye.

Though autobiographical, “Marrying Anita” is more interesting as a look at the changing social mores in urban India. The Delhi scene Anita describes is startling, with commitment phobic young men taking full advantage of the sexual liberation of career-minded women. The women are the aggressors, determined to separate themselves from the marital ambitions of the previous generation and yet there is a wistful need for connection. Anita herself rides an emotional roller-coaster, being attracted to the most unsuitable men and dismissing offhand any prospects that look even remotely likely. I was puzzled by her behavior at first, but it dawned on me that she perhaps was unconsciously sabotaging any possibility of a real relationship.

The book is a curious mixture of hopefulness and pathos. When Anita finally embarks on a somewhat serious relationship, she exhibits a combination of high expectations and neediness that all of us remember from our teenage years, and that seems out of place in an older, more experienced woman. She breaks it off for what it would seem to an older generation to be a trivial reason, then transfers her affection to a completely unobtainable object of desire, mooning over him like a lovesick puppy. “Marrying Anita” left me glad I was in a committed long-term relationship where there was no need to play games.

As for literary style, the book starts off well, with overtones of “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert’s lovely travelogue through life. But it soon veers off into self-indulgence, forsaking any sense of chronology or continuity. The chapters are like samplers; pick any one for a quick read. The prose is effortless, though it has a tendency to pretension sometimes (I still have to look up the meaning of “plangency”, but her tendency to occasionally use complex language could simply be the result of a long writing career).

Anita is surprisingly coy about her sexual adventures, a fact that could perhaps be explained in her acknowledgements where she thanks her parents for their “as-of-yet unconditional love and support.” This leads to the sense that she is holding back, which make the book feel incomplete.

Despite its shortcomings, I enjoyed reading “Marrying Anita”. It gave me insight into a social world that is closed to me and descriptions of Delhi are funny and witty without condescending. Take it to the beach for a fun read.

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