Miss New India by Bharati Mukherjee. Anjali Bose ("Angie" when she's on the make) typifies the Miss New India: a bright daughter of a traditional, lower middle class family in a small town in northern India, who longs for something beyond the role of dutiful wife & mother that is expected of her. Her teacher notices her ambition and facility with English and persuades her to move to Bangalore, the call-center capital of the world, but unfortunately not before her parents' matchmaking ends in disaster for Anjali. Bangalore doesn't seem to be a great improvement, at least at first, but as she finds her way amidst a new crowd of diverse but self-serving young people, she discovers an entire, exciting world whose existence she never even dreamed of.
This was a novel that I *wanted* to like more than I actually liked it. While I cannot say that I read a lot of novels about the Indian subcontinent, the ones that I have read I have loved, so that might actually be the cause of my disappointment. For starters, I could not bring myself to like Anjali/Angie. Yes, I found her plight sympathetic, and while I could put myself in her shoes to a certain extent and understand her motivations, her choices seemed so misguided and shallow. At almost every turn I wanted to sit her down and slap some sense into her. At first I thought that maybe the cultural gap between Angie and me (or between Bangalore and my small suburban town) was too wide and I was disappointed in myself as a reader for my lack of empathy. But eventually I realized that no, regardless of our disparate backgrounds, Angie seems to remain deliberately obtuse about her situation and the people in her life and that all she really wants is a wealthy man, young or old, to keep her in the style in which she would like to become accustomed. In fact, she reminds me of nobody so much as the women who people Candace Bushnell's book The Four Blondes--who yearn to be upwardly mobile, who are willing to put up with shabby treatment from men if they are wealthy enough, and who never seem to think about what they might be able to do for someone else while calculating what the someone else should do for them.
Still, there many other things to recommend this book, including the city of Bangalore, a far more fascinating character to me than Angie ever was. Bangalore seems far more fully fleshed than the people of this novel, and Mukherjee's sense of place is very finely drawn.
NB: This is my first entry this year in the South Asian Challenge 2011. I received the book in ARC format from my Houghton Mifflin Harcourt sales rep, Holly Ruck, a couple of months ago. The book just released in hardcover this week.