Friday, August 10, 2012

Julie's Review: Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes

Summary:  Meet Jana Bibi, a Scottish woman helping to save the small town in India she has grown to call home and the oddball characters she considers family. Janet Laird's life changed the day she inherited her grandfather's house in a faraway Indian hill station. Ignoring her son's arguments to come grow old in their family castle in Scotland, she moves with her chatty parrot, Mr. Ganguly and her loyal housekeeper, Mary, to Hamara Nagar, where local merchants are philosophers, the chief of police is a tyrant, and a bagpipe-playing Gurkha keeps the wild monkeys at bay. Settling in, Jana Bibi (as she comes to be known) meets her colorful local neighbors—Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors, who struggles with his business and family, V.K. Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium is bursting at the seams with objects of unknown provenance, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper, who burns the midnight oil at his printing press. When word gets out that the town is in danger of being drowned by a government dam, Jana is enlisted to help put it on the map. Hoping to attract tourists with promises of good things to come, she stacks her deck of cards, readies her fine-feathered assistant—and Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes is born.

Review: If you are looking for a swift moving novel, then Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes isn't going to fulfill that need. If you are looking for a novel with rich and wonderful characters, then this book is for you. Jana herself is a lovely if not eccentric woman. What women in the 1950s/1960s would opt to live in India by herself? You see Jana grew up in India and it's the place where she feels most at home and the place that she calls home. Upon receiving the news that she has inherited her great-grandfathers house in Hamara Nagar, she moves there without knowing what she is getting herself into. The house is old and needs some TLC but there is always someone to help her with her problem of the day.

We are introduced to so many wonderful characters throughout the book that inhabit Hamara Nagara and they are what makes this book sing. For me, the plot wasn't the highlight of this book; it was secondary. This book was solely character driven. These people jumped off the pages for me, as did India and Hamara Nagar. Ms. Woodman had a way of pulling you in to the country without being there. What struck me was how harmonious people of different religions were living with each other. They might not have believed the same things but they respected each other enough to not cause strife. I wouldn't have thought there were different ways of greeting people based on religion! It's obvious that if I ever traveled to that region I would have some serious learning to do.

My favorite character was Feroze Ali Khan. There was something about him that pulled me in immediately. Maybe it was the way he talked about his wife Zohra and his nephew Moustapha. Maybe it was the way he kept a journal and philosophized about daily life that rings true in any culture or religion. Most of all I think it was the way he opened himself up at the end of the novel. It was like he had an epiphany about life.

It is obvious that Ms. Woodman is intimately acquainted with India. Her love for the country that she lived in for many years is evident in her descriptions of the land and of the people. There is a lot of humor in this novel as well as some social commentary both of which are not heavy handed. Also, the cover of this novel is breathtaking. The picture above doesn't do it justice. The colors are vibrant and grab your attention.

If you are looking for a book to transport you to a faraway land, then do yourself a favor and grab Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes.

It is my understanding that this novel will be either a trilogy or a series and I will definitely be reading them. I can't wait to have tea with all of these characters again.

Final Take: 3.75/5



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