A Convenient Marriage
It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.
That's the tag line for A Convenient Marriage by Jeevani Charika.
It had me so excited to read the story, but also, so worried.
Excited because I love supporting South Asian writers, artists, and creatives. Worried because so often I've ended up feeling a little let down. I just didn't want to read a story that gave into all the arranged marriage stereotypes, or the usual tropes around a brown girl coming to life because a cute white boy saved her.
I know that last part sounds a little hypocritical, considering here I am with my cute white boy:
Photography by A.S. Nagpal Photography
But Greg didn't save me. If we're being real, I probably saved him *hair flip.*
As I started to read this book, I quickly realized that I didn't have anything to worry about.
Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.
Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding for him.
When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything - friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow their heart?
Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?
There were so many more topics in this book than I expected. It wasn't just a light-hearted read. There was regret, loss, expectations, interracial relationships, queer relationships, family bonds, and mental health. All of these things were covered through the story of these two individuals who became friends through this marriage of convenience.
This is a lot to cover, but what I loved is that all of these different aspects of the story were told with nuance. There weren't really any stereotypes or tropes. I saw a lot of my own feelings reflected in the story. It was like a weight being taken off my chest to see some of my own feelings down in writing from someone else. It felt so incredibly validating.
For example, the idea of an arranged marriage isn't treated like some backwards idea of love and marriage. It's treated as something completely normal and not exotic or othering. The parents aren't made out to be some strict villains in the plot who demand to have a say in every aspect of their daughter's life.
I remember I once said in high school that I wouldn't mind having an arranged marriage, and everyone looked at me like I was crazy. How could I want such a thing?? They just didn't get it. But reading this story, and reading Chaya's view of her parents and even the interactions she had with them when she's back visiting Sri Lanka, felt true to the experience I've had, and the experience many of my siblings and friends have had. It felt authentic. The interactions between characters, and the family dynamics, all felt real and genuine, and not some caricature of South Asian culture that the world has been consuming for as long as I can remember.
Side note: important topics aside, it was so much fun to just read little bits and think "OH MY GOD YES!" Like when they're talking and agree that Chinese take out is better in Sri Lanka. I feel that way about Chinese food in India compared to the US as well. Very minor detail, but very very true.
If you think South Asian representation is hard to come by, just imagine trying to come across stories that reflect a Queer South Asian experience.
But here it is! In A Convenient Marriage! I can't speak to how universal Gimhana's story is but I know that someone somewhere will feel seen. I wasn't sure that I would like him at first, because he's so career driven and in a work environment that is snobby, he just comes across as a very snobby person. But there is so much more to him, and I just really loved that the characters all had layers. I didn't feel the same way about them in the beginning as I did by the end. And I don't think that's because they particularly grew as individuals, but because the way Jeevani Charika tells the story, they kind of just open up to you in a way that you fall in love with them all.
It's been a while since I've read a story where I felt the need to hold the main character and protect them. I can say quite honestly, that Chaya is on my list of most adored characters.
Also, despite marriage being in the title, this book isn't your typical two people fall in love story. I don't really think romantic love is the primary focus for so much of it. The book explores friendship and even the relationships that we have with ourselves in the form of self care and how we prioritize ourselves. It was really so much more than I expected. And I loved all of it.
I don't want to give away too much more about the book and the plot, but one other feel good moment about this book is the author. This isn't Jeevani's first book that she's had published. She also writes under another name, Rhoda Baxter. But having followed her on Twitter (@rhodabaxter or @jeevanicharika), I've learned that this is a book that was rejected many times. It's a book that grew over time and now it is this lovely story that is being published in all its glory under her true Sri Lankan name. Her perseverance is inspiring. Sometimes we have a story that we really want to tell and maybe the world isn't ready for it yet. I am so glad she kept at it so that we could have what it is today.
One other disclaimer, the story includes some violence driven by homophobia, and some instances where self harm is described. (I saw that another book review had included this warning, so I hope this will be helpful to anyone here considering reading it).
I usually end these blog tours with a book pairing but I really wasn't prepared for how emotional this story would get me, so all I can recommend is a box of tissues, just in case.
I hope you'll give this book a shot. It really is wonderfully written, and the story is lovely.
If you don't want to take just my word for it, you can check out reviews from other book bloggers for the A Convenient Marriage Blog Tour.
For more information about the author, or the book head to:
Twitter: @rhodabaxter or @jeevanicharika
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Or to purchase the book, here!