My thanks to Headline and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.
Before I start, just wanted to mention that this book appears as What Are We Doing About Zoya on NetGalley and The Rules of Arrangement elsewhere; not sure if this is because of different titles in different places of publication of whether they decided to do a title change at a later stage.
In the book, we meet Zoya Sahani, a twenty-six-year old from a relatively affluent Punjabi family in Bombay/Mumbai, who works in an advertising agency and is doing well at work. In fact, so well that she earns a promotion and her boss, Arnav Bajaj, whom she refers to as the ‘dragon’ may recommend her for a job in their parent organisation in New York if she does well on her next assignment. Meanwhile, her otherwise loving, and educated college-professor mother Geeta wants Zoya to get married (under pressure from relatives and also the social scenario where at her age, Zoya is nearing the shelf). But Zoya is dark-skinned and also overweight which makes finding a suitable groom difficult. But her Bua (father’s sister), Sheila runs a match-making service and gets on the job. Zoya’s first few experiences are predictable (and unsurprisingly hit her confidence) but somewhat to her own surprise, they manage to find a near perfect boy (though from a family of health freaks, rather to her discomfort). Meanwhile, things at her job work out too, and she is offered a chance to go to New York on a three-year assignment; now Zoya must decide whether she wants to walk down the traditional path or take the chance of a lifetime, and follow her dreams. Alongside, she begins to find that her dragon-like boss isn’t such a dragon after all!
While romances/rom-coms aren’t my usual fare, I ended up requesting this on because of the setting in Mumbai with Indian characters—and though this was essentially a romance and one with plenty of humour, it was also much more in that it showcased how women have to give up their dreams, their wishes, sometimes even their identities to conform to social norms that expect one to be married by a certain age.
The book I thought captured (wealthy) Punjabi culture really well—the loudness, the brightly coloured clothes, the bling, and the ostentatious displays of wealth. Also the whole stereotypical arranged married scenario with demands for name changes, to the girl being asked to quit her job (not always the case, but it does happen); boys’ families coming to ‘see’ the girl; and also the interactions and behaviour expected after the engagement—it was actually quite perfectly done. (Of course, I did wonder if to those unfamiliar with the culture or rather cultures in the country, this would end up been taken as representing the whole country or every ‘arranged’ marriage scenario—which is by no means the case.)
But I think more important was the fact that the author showed how amidst these social mores, even educated, usually reasonable people might start acting unreasonably like Zoya’s mother, who seems bent on her being married now rather than waiting as Zoya wishes; her father supports Zoya, but seems to go along with the family’s wishes.
The issue of weight, and to a lesser extent skin colour also come in. Zoya herself, because of social expectations, at times wonders why she isn’t more like her much slimmer (but nasty) cousin (even comments on others’ weight), but I was glad to see she remains fond of food throughout not forcing herself into unreasonable diets (or, any diet for that matter), and also that her family too (other than said nasty cousin) doesn’t pick on her for this or ask her to eat less; in fact, food, in true Punjabi style, is plentiful and always around. (I also enjoyed the references to books which were also plentiful!)
The characters overall were fairly likeable and well done, as was the romance that apparently everyone (us readers, I mean), but Zoya herself could see. Zoya because of her name, curly hair, and job in advertising reminded me of her namesake from The Zoya Factor by Anuja Chauhan, but this Zoya was very much her own character. While I liked her fairly well, she didn’t seem to see the obvious—in fact mostly jumping to all the wrong conclusions. The other characters—the fitness crazy in-laws and fiancé, Lalit, and Sheila Bua—with all of her complexities that Zoya slowly discovers–were also well done.
This was a fast-paced read, and one that kept me reading. The story was overall light and humorous and I enjoyed it for the most part; a bit at the end though I felt may be was a little too over the top for my liking. On the other hand, another scene right at the end was good fun. Four stars from me.
Find Liz’s review from Adventures in Reading, Running and Working from Home, here