Friday, September 17, 2021

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors - Sonali Dev

Summary: It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.  

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco's most acclaimed neurosurgeon.  But that's not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family, who have achieved power by making their own nonnegotiable rules:

    - Never trust an outsider

    - Never do anything to jeopardize your brother's political        aspirations.

    - And never, ever defy your family.

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules.  But now she has a chance to redeem herself.  So long as she doesn't repeat her old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and who place pedigree above character.  He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer him, but he values his pride to much to indulge Trisha's arrogance.  And then he discovers that she's the only surgeon who can save his sister's life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ's stunning desserts.  But before they can savor the future, they need to reckon with the past...

(Summary from book - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is a modern retelling, loosely based on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  It tells the story of Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant neurosurgeon trying to reconnect with her estranged Indian-American family, and D.J. Caine, a talented chef who left a promising career to take care of his ailing sister.  D.J.'s dreams (and his ability to pay his sister's towering medical bills) hang on the success of his current catering job, so when a chance meeting in the Raje family kitchens leads to a heated conflict over caramel, Trisha and DJ jump to conclusions that couldn't be further from the truth.  From D.J.'s POV, Trisha is privileged, arrogant, and entirely too bossy, whereas Trisha finds D.J. rude, careless, and uneducated.  Cue the button-pushing, bickering, family drama, and romantic tension.  Over the course of the book, the two are forced to work together in a variety of situations and slowly begin to realize that their prejudice might be misplaced.  

I didn't have to look too closely to find the similarities to the original P&P, but I liked that Sonali Dev's version wasn't a cut-and-paste copy of the original.  It was more modernized with enough deviation from the original story that, even though I had a general idea of how things would end, I was in the dark on all the particulars.  D.J. and Trisha's interaction was amusing at times, stressful at others, and quite a bit more...um...chemically intense than Austen ever penned.  I spent a good chunk of the book mentally bracing myself for what would surely be an excruciating 'proposal scene' and Dev did not disappoint.  Like the original, it was pure torture!

I kind of expected Pride, Prejudice, and other Flavors to be a light beach read, but it had surprising depth, incorporating relevant societal issues regarding classism, racism, sexism (and a few other 'isms).  In her acknowledgements and afterword, the author wrote about wanting to weave a story that was loosely inspired by the "imbalanced power dynamics and preconceived notions" Austen explored, while creating characters that are "navigating the structure of society in more contemporary ways."  In that way, I believe she was successful.  I loved that the author challenged more 'traditional' gender roles by writing a female character that was significantly more wealthy and successful than her male counterpart.  It was interesting to see how that changed the gender dynamics between the characters.  I also loved the characters' diverse ethnic backgrounds and all the cultural depth that brought to the story (especially the food -- because I am all about the food!).  It was definitely interesting to see the classic novel filtered through a new lens.

Now for the downside..

While I enjoyed and was thoroughly entertained by the overall concept of the story, I had a few issues with the delivery which may or may not bother other readers.  First, there was a lot of profanity and some crude language (in both American English and British dialects).  I can usually let that slide if that is my only issue with a book, but I was disappointed that Trisha and D.J.'s relationship hit the TMI stage at the very end of the novel.  I don't care to read that sort of thing at all and will usually skip over it, but when sex comes at the very end of a book it really bothers me because it sends the message that sex, rather than the relationship, is the most important part of the story.  I like to be able to pass the books I enjoy along to my teenage daughters and I just wouldn't feel comfortable handing this one over.  The author has written several other books in the Austen-retelling family (Recipe for Persuasion and Incense and Sensibility) which might entertain a less finicky reader.  I admit the titles are fairly tempting but, since I assume they'll contain more of the same issues, I have read all that I plan to read.   

My Rating: 3.5 Stars 

For the Sensitive Reader:  Profanity, of both the American and British variety.  Enough that a quarter of the way through I just stopped trying to keep count.  Some risqué artwork (described, not pictured).  Crude, sexist language (from one character in particular).  Some innuendo and discussion of sexual assault, and sexual intimacy.  Some discussion of racism (thankfully, portrayed as a negative ideology).

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