Reading stories set in different cultures has always fascinated me as I got older, especially when it involves learning about the culture and its people. Add a romance to it and I get hooked in. ‘Milan (A Wedding Story)’ by Simi K. Rao really got me hyped up because I’ve never read a romance novel involving an arranged marriage before, especially if it involved Indian culture. The strange thing is that I did get the romance in this, but I was expecting a little more out of this. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
Mili is a young woman in Northern India who recently got back from college to live with her elderly parents. Happy to be home, she never expected to learn that her parents have been talking to some friends and want Mili to accept the idea of an arranged marriage between her and an old acquaintance from school. That acquaintance’s name is Ahaan, and he promises her the option to choose whether or not they can be together. Reluctant, Mili decides to say yes, and begins to grow nervous every day as the wedding gets closer and her life starts changing.
To be honest, I have mixed feelings for this book. On the one hand, I love how relatable Rao made her characters. Mili to me is a very engaging main lead along with Ahaan. She’s presented as a meek young woman with dreams and passion, along with a teasing eccentricity that lead to funny moments. Ahaan is polite and calm, but can be emotional and eccentric like Mili. However, he’s more collected and can be amusing when he wants to be. He also loves Mili to death, even though she doesn’t know what to make of the whole situation. Despite not knowing each other that much, you can immediately tell they have a wonderful chemistry whenever they interact with each other. They tease each other, make mischief, and all as the wedding gets closer.
I especially love the parents in ‘Milan’. They’re presented as aging parents who cling to tradition, but know that the world is changing and don’t push issues on their daughter unless it involves society rules. In my opinion, this is what the parents in Michael Barakiva’s ‘One Man Guy’ should’ve been like. While the parents in that book seemed more like parents from a bad TV sitcom, the parents in this book feel more in-tune with their culture and fleshed out.
So what is it about ‘Milan’ that’s given me mixed feelings? Well, it’s the formatting and written style. To be fair, I love the nods like having Indian words like baat pakki (the deal is sealed) and dulhan (bride), which makes me feel like I’m actually in the culture. However, my problem is that I don’t feel like I’m in it enough.
One of the most well-known aspects of storytelling is to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’, and Rao feels like she hasn’t fully grasped it yet. Granted I haven’t read her other works, but I was expecting more syntax thrown in between the lines. One good example of this is where throughout ‘Milan’ I’m not given a full picture of the setting.
There’s a scene later in the book where Ahaan brings Mili to a hidden plateau outside the village, and he helps her climb up to see the view of where she’s lived her entire life. This could’ve been a grand, romantic moment for both of our characters. We could’ve seen the details of how small the village is in the hilly forest, how beautiful it is, and know how it looks in our main character’s eyes. Instead, it’s compacted into a small sentence and isn’t given much thought.
Again, I have really mixed feelings with this one. I love the characters and the developing young romance between Ahaan and Mili, but I could’ve been shown more of their surroundings. I wanted to know more of the landscapes in India, I wanted to discover more about the people, I wanted to know more about…well India.
What’s the final verdict? Well, I think it’s a good novel. I don’t think it’s a great novel, but it’s far from being one I regret reading. I loved listening to these people act like people, I loved our main couple, and I loved learning some of the Indian language. If you have the time, please give this book a chance and form your own opinion, because if there’s one thing ‘Milan (A Wedding Story)’ has taught me, it is that to never judge a book by its cover when it comes to love (I know it’s corny to say, but check it out!).
If you have any questions or already have an opinion on the novel, feel free to leave any comments. Thanks!