Content Warning: There is discussion of assault — not the actual assault — in the book and in this review.
In The Trouble with Hating You, Sajni Patel brilliantly shows how young Indian Americans blend the Indian ethics and morals their parents brought with them from India — and tried to inculcate in their progeny — and the American principles they grew up with among their peers. Ultimately, the book is an exploration of deeply-held values, how our past shapes us, and how we can intentionally step forward into life.
Liya Thakkar is a Gujarati Indian American biochemistry scientist in Houston. All her life, she’s been known as a rebel among her parents’ generation, a strong person among her friends, and a person with integrity among her colleagues. She was not generally considered a likeable person, and she has convinced herself of that fact, and she has further developed a hard shell to shrug off any attempts by others to like her. She has her close coterie of friends and she has her work, and she has convinced herself that she is satisfied with life. She certainly has no intention of marrying.
So when she finds herself being surprised by her desperate parents with an introduction to a prospective groom, she runs screaming into the night…smack into the gorgeous person of Jayesh “Jay” Shah, a Gujarati Indian American lawyer in Houston.
Jay is naturally appalled at Liya’s manners and that she hurt his mother’s feelings and her parents’. Unlike Liya’s rebelliousness and prickly relationship with her parents, mostly her father, Jay has a close relationship with his mother, brother, and sister-in-law. Liya has an unruly tongue on her, but Jay is the dutiful son and has always the rights words and gestures for every occasion and every person.
So why does he constantly find himself arguing with Liya…when they meet at the mandir (Hindu temple) and at work? He is flabbergasted to find that they have to work closely together to save the company where Liya’s been recently promoted.
Liya wants nothing to do with him and he finds he can’t keep himself away from her. What follows is a story of such tenderness as he softens her sharp corners even as he works his way into her heart past all the barricades she continually throws up. When she finally stops blocking his every move to draw closer to her, she realizes that he is struggling with intense guilt that he has successfully hidden from everyone but his close family. In so doing, she helps him move past the bonds of grief and guilt into thinking that he is deserving of all the happiness she can give him.
Liya had been assaulted as a young teen by a man of great influence in the Indian American community, and when she told her parents about it, her father repudiated her. How does a young girl survive that deep betrayal, that deep shame? Suicidality or Rebelling. Liya decided to be that strong person who shields that intensely vulnerable child inside. She shows the world that she has no respect for boys, and later on, no respect for men. She is so convincing that they, in turn, have no respect for her, nor she for herself. The heart of this story is how Jay convinces her that she is worthy of respect, worthy of love. To him, she is the moon and the earth and the sky. It is because of him that she recognizes that self-hatred has been destroying her from within, that it is okay to be compassionate to herself, that it is okay to be vulnerable with the one person who will always lift her up, who thinks she is aces.
Patel has created a powerful heroine in Liya Thakkar in all her guises and complexity. And in Jay Shah, she has created the perfect consort. In a role reversal, Liya is the Lord Shiva to Jay’s Parvati. I highly recommend The Trouble with Hating You.