The Storyteller’s Secret
Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.
Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation.
The Storyteller’s Secret is the second book by Sejal Badani and I couldn’t wait to read it as I loved her first novel, Trail of Broken Wings. As an Amazon Prime member, I got to read both books for free as part of the Kindle First programme but Trail of Broken Wings is definitely better. While I did enjoy The Storyteller’s Secret and loved the characters, there was something about it that just didn’t ring true to me and quite a lot of suspension of belief was required.
Amisha’s story begins with her marriage to Deepak and we learn about how Indian daughters never really belong to their parents as once married they move in with their in-laws and never see their parents again. While Amisha’s marriage is an arranged one, she is quite lucky because Deepak treats her well and she soon wins over her mother-in-law who initially makes her life a misery. However, Amisha isn’t content with just being a wife and mother because she is full of stories she wants to commit to paper. When a young British lieutenant opens a school in the village, Amisha sets her heart on learning English but first she has to persuade her husband to let her attend. As it turns out, Stephen, the young lieutenant, offers her personal English lessons in exchange for her teaching writing classes to the children.
While we are told often enough about how restrictive Amisha’s life is as a woman in India, she seems to have a lot more freedom than you would expect. Deepak is away most of the time so Amisha is the one who seems to make most of the decisions and she spends a lot of time at the school with Stephen without a chaperone. The outcome of Amisha’s relationship with Stephen is predictable so the secret is not much of a secret but I don’t think it really matters all that much as it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way.
The best relationship in the entire book is between Amisha and Ravi who are an absolute riot when they start insulting each other. Again, it messes with the picture in my head of demure Indian ladies and how they should behave with men not related to them but it’s worth it as it is so funny. When Amisha first meets Ravi she discovers he has been refused a job at Deepak’s family mill as he is a Dalit – an untouchable. The caste system in India is complicated but the Dalit are considered the lowest caste and as such are discriminated against by the higher castes who won’t even tolerate their presence. As a consequence, Dalits often live in squalor as they find it hard getting jobs and are often refused medical care. Amisha, unfazed by his untouchability, hires Ravi as a servant and he eventually becomes her confidante. While there are a few disgruntlements about Ravi’s status by Deepak, no one else seems to care until it becomes necessary to the plot but I loved Ravi and Amisha together.
In between the chapters about Amisha, we follow Jaya as she embraces her Indian heritage while coming to terms with her losses and disappointments. Jaya’s relationship with her mother has always been a difficult one since her mother often seems distant emotionally but when Jaya learns about her childhood, everything starts to make sense and as she shares Amisha’s story with her mother, the bond between them begins to heal. There are some quite emotional conversations between the two of them as they speak over the telephone, but the most moving one is a simple I love you.
There are a few niggles with how Jaya interacts with Ravi’s family as she seems almost like a fairy godmother sent to wave her magic wand over their troubles and make all their wishes come true. However, you will enjoy the story far more if you don’t question it too much.