Author Siobhan Malany’s first novel Mehendi Tides relates a multi-cultural story of friendship, romance and personal growth.
The novel is told from the perspective Kate, who, at 16, accompanies her two friends, a Muslim-American and a Hindu-American, as they visit their extended families in Pakistan and India. The trip introduces Kate to their familial customs and spiritual practices—and to an intoxicating male cousin, Tariq, who Kate becomes romantically involved with. The experiences the girls share on their trip and at home shape the women they become.
Chapters of their teenage adventure are intertwined with passages set a decade later, as Kate is driven to pursue a PhD in biochemistry by her mother’s death from breast cancer, experiences ongoing tension over her situation with Tariq, and watches as her friends make their own difficult choices in balancing career and family, guided by different cultural expectations and internal conflicts.
Malany’s story has some drawbacks: Characters are too frequently depicted as shocked, startled or surprised, reducing the emotional impact when details of higher importance (such as a hidden rape or medical emergency) are disclosed. Also, plot points are often revisited—including Kate’s recent breakup or difficulties in graduate school—without any added nuance. And the arc of the central romance is rather predictable.
Nonetheless, Kate’s search for a meaningful life carries readers right to the end, and Malany beautifully depicts cultural landmarks and traditions, interweaving her familiarity with Asia throughout. For example, she vividly details the preparation of paan from betel nuts, a mixture chewed for its stimulating effects, and explores attractions in the city Hyderabad. For readers planning to travel in India, this narrative serves as an enjoyable guide, including a map of Hyderabad in the front, while also telling a layered story.
A novel that would be of most interest to Indiaphiles, this book is a pleasant read filled with generally credible characters and richly depicted settings.
Also available in paperback.