Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was everything I wanted in Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. Though it’s distasteful to praise one author at the cost of another, Sharma’s ugh-failure was fresh in my mind as I read Dev’s latest and revelled in it. In all fairness, Dev herself came under my miffed-reader scrutiny as my one foray into her books wasn’t positive. I found The Bollywood Bride overblown, melodramatic, and humorless. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is none of those things. Dev bleached the Bride‘s flaws and created a novel that is rich in humor, deeply felt, tender, and moving. Moreover, I’m leery of Austen-homages, finding them derivative (I guess they’re meant to be, so schoolmarm picky of me to say so) and never as good as the original. Dev convinced me otherwise. Her Austen-love comes through as sheer delight and joy in the frothy glory that is Pride and Prejudice. But Dev has wrought something uniquely her own: twisting and turning in Austen’s wake, leaping like a joyful dolphin by taking the familiar, beloved Austen tropes and making them hers. This constitutes Dev’s “other flavors”: coming from teasing out of Austen a remarkable POC-hero-heroine, American politics and the “dream”, class struc-and-stric-tures, family dynamics, and Austen-up-ending gender stereotypes, the most brilliant stroke of which is Dev’s rendering of smarmy Wickham.
All this and I have yet to say anything about the novel and its marvelous make-up of character, narrative, and theme. It’s a tale as old as Austen and yet not …
Dr. Trisha Raje, San-Francisco-based neurosurgeon, of the wealthy, upcoming-politically American-Indian Rajes, can save her patient’s, Emma Caine’s, life, but can’t penetrate her family’s condemnation. Trisha’s youthful naïveté once compromised her brother, Yash, and now he’s running for California’s governorship, it can return to haunt the tight-knit family’s campaign. When the novel opens, Trisha arrives late to one of Yash’s political events. Hungry and guilt-ridden at her late arrival, she makes her way to the kitchen where she insults the Michelin-starred chef by referring to him as the “hired help” when he’s out of earshot. Except he’s not. The next day, said chef, DJ (D is for “Darcy”, get it?) turns out to be her patient’s brother. For anyone familiar with Austen’s delightfully cringe-worthy P&P premise, you’ll remember the mutual misjudgement and misunderstanding that keep Elizabeth and Darcy apart. Dev taps into and simultaneously trope-twists every cringe-worthy Austen scene with brilliance: witness Trisha’s humiliating, yet arrogant love confession to the gorgeous DJ for one among many wonderful scenes, both Austen-homage and uniquely Dev’s vision in our troubled times context.
What brings the novel together is Dev’s polished, witty, splendid writing. My Kindle probably highlighted half the text! I want everyone to read Dev’s novel, so if my encomia thus far haven’t convinced, I hope prose sampling will. For example, we get to know Trisha with this succinct statement: “So much about the world baffled Dr. Trisha Raje, but she was never at a loss for how to do her job.” Like Darcy, Austen’s, not Dev’s, Trisha is socially awkward and a professionally brilliant workaholic. Another example? Dev deftly summarizes Trisha’s relationship with her family: “Trisha grinned, because it was a fact universally acknowledged that she was an approval slut when it came to her family.” (Do you see what I mean about Austen-echoes and yet Dev’s own strong voice?)
One of my favourite scenes (I only have one not-favourite scene out of the near-400-page novel) is Trisha and DJ’s antagonism-boding meet-cute, from DJ’s perspective (and after Trisha almost ruins his caramel and behaves like a first-class snotty “arse”) and starring Trisha and her sister, Nisha:
“You want to go back in there? I’ll introduce you. You can celebrate for real.” Both women broke into giggles. DJ almost smiled; maybe he’d overreacted in there a bit. “No thank you,” the good doctor said in that voice of hers. “But thanks for thinking I’m desperate enough to be set up with the hired help.” DJ stepped away from the door, the warmth on his face turning into an angry burn. The hired help? He had worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, for crying out loud. For years. People across Paris knew his name. Who the bloody hell did this woman think she was? Sometimes, he really, truly hated rich people.
Oh oh. Isn’t it delicious? And the next day, when DJ realizes Tirsha is his sister’s brain surgeon: “Bollocks! It was that woman who had almost destroyed his caramel. Those flame-coloured eyes, glinting with those uppish airs were burned into his brain.”
Have I convinced you yet? If not, here’s an early favourite passage (tons of them peppered throughout, but I’m avoiding spoilers), again from DJ’s POV and the scene? The first time Trisha tastes DJ’s food (because he’s the chef again for a Yash campaign event):
Trisha Raje was without a doubt the most insufferable snob DJ had ever come across in his entire bloody life. He’d been the poor boy at a Richmond private school. He’d worked at a Michelin-starred place des Vosges restaurant for ten years. He’d seen far more than his fair share of self-important, overprivileged gits. But it had never bothered him. Not like this. Her snootiness didn’t just get under his skin, it chopped up every bit of pride he’d ever managed to gather up and flung it all over the place like a blender you forget to put the lid on.
… He found her perched on a barstool at the breakfast bar. Perched and … munching on one of his crunchy corn-and-lentil papads. Red. His vision actually turned red. It had taken him three attempts to get the crunch exactly right, to get the corn and lentil to balance out, to get the wafer-thin chip to curl just so. “This is really delicious,” she said and he imagined her smacking her lips and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand like a vampire who had just fed. Reminding her that he had asked her not to touch his food would be useless, because evidently she didn’t put much value on processing simple requests from lesser beings.
Lest you think Dev doesn’t have moments of gravitas that are equally fabulous, I won’t quote from a brilliantly perceptive scene where Dev experiences racial profiling (he’s the product of an Anglo-Indian father and Rwandan mother) and Trisha, a consciousness raising as she’s his witness. And I won’t quote from the tenderness between DJ and his sister Emma, or how DJ slowly and organically comes to see past his prejudice to Trisha’s worth. And I won’t laud the vibrancy and likeability of the secondary characters. Or the sly insertion of Dev’s man-whore Lydia, or is that Mr. Collins?
Does Dev strike any wrong notes? A singular scene between Trisha and her former-Bollywood-star mother. Forgiven, because in every other way, P, P, & Other Flavors is perfection. Miss Austen would approve. With her kind regard, Miss Bates would say that Dev’s novel is proof “you have bewitched me,” Pride and Prejudice. I hope Ms Dev has another Raje family romance in the works because this is one world I would like to call on again … and again … and again …
Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is published by William Morrow. It was released on April 17 and you should run to your preferred vendor for a copy. I am grateful to William Morrow for an e-ARC, via Edelweiss+. Hey folks, I messed up: I’m so sorry, it looks like Dev’s novel isn’t available until May 7. Do pre-order!!