Originally, I chose this story for #MandarayReads due to its short length. But it got set aside when I had another novel present itself as perfect for the hashtag, and I ended up reading “Home Country” on my own time. At first, the exposition-heavy style of the story made me worry that I would dislike it, but it actually wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough substance in the book to make me love it. The characters are ushered off the stage nearly as soon as I began to bond with them, and indeed as soon as they begin to bond with each other. There’s so much focus on the main character’s horoscope and how worried she is about everything that there’s no time to cherish and connect the times when she isn’t. Her relationship with her husband really isn’t explained, either; it just sort of “happens”. They go from being perfect strangers to suddenly having a special, unbreakable bond. Yup. While this is certainly a nice fantasy and allowed the book to end on a happy note, I’m afraid things don’t generally work like that in real life. I would have liked the book to be more honest about why they really bonded (a racist microaggression from a co-worker) as well as exploring how that bond grew over time. But no, it’s just “we’re strangers, now we’re bonded, now we’re having sex, the end.”
One thing I think which is noteworthy is that the husband is a disabled man, and that the author makes it clear on her Goodreads profile that she feels very strongly that there need to be more disabled protagonists and characters in books. I agree wholeheartedly, (though was a bit saddened by her focus on “disabled men and the heroines who love them”) and I appreciate the fact that the husband was never treated like a joke or an invalid. This brings us back to my original point, however: I wanted a more in-depth exploration of his life and who he was as a character. There are glimpses, but not nearly enough. I felt similarly about his wife and the book’s protagonist, Priyanka; I liked her and I wanted more. I wanted to know who she was outside of her unhappy family and “bad hororscope”.
Basically, this is a book that shouldn’t have been a short story, and should have dug a lot deeper into its characters. Since there isn’t enough of a plot to justify a story that isn’t character-focused, and so I feel like the author could have done more in this area.
Which brings me to my final point: I’m not sure how I feel about a white woman writing a story which centers around the cultures and traditions she is not a part of. While I certainly don’t think that white authors should only ever write white characters, with “Home Country” there seemed to be a very heavy focus on what most white people think of when they hear the term “arranged marriage”: An oppressive family so steeped in their own outdated traditions that they lose sight of how miserable the young woman they’re “selling away” is with the whole business. This is a very popular stereotype in American culture because it allows us to feel superior to other cultures and races, and also makes it easy for us to ignore our own deeply problematic traditions and customs.
While “Home Country” doesn’t strike me as maliciously racist, I do have concerns about the motivation behind choosing a story centering around arranged marriage, especially since the protagonist is Indian. In fact, Priyanka’s background my biggest red flag here is that the author does not take great effort to define Priyanka beyond her simply being Indian–there is virtually no discussion of what her life was like, what religion she follows, where she grew up, what kind of food she likes or any of the other myriad things that make a human being who they are. She’s just Indian. She has a “bad horoscope”, and she has gold coins she can sell if the marriage doesn’t go well. That’s it. The fact that that’s it worries me greatly. (Also not sure why the cover art is of a woman who looks more like she is from Thailand rather than India??)
Unfortunately, like many white Americans, my knowledge of Indian culture is virtually nil, so I am not a good judge of whether or not “Home Country” is actually perpetuating racist stereotypes or not. These are all simply vague impressions that I got while reading. So take my thoughts with a large grain of salt: I am very much not an expert in these matters.
Overall, I thought “Home Country” was a sweet little story that was entertaining enough for the hour or so it took to read it. It wasn’t great or particularly memorable, though, so it gets a middling score. I wouldn’t mind reading from this author again, but I doubt I’ll seek her out specifically.