The Heart of a Story: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Heart of the Story

With Indian royalty, California wealth, a governor campaign, a neurosurgeon, a Michelin-star-trained chef, and soul-satisfying Indian food, Dev has delivered a complex smorgasbord of a novel.

This story introduces the Rajes, Indian-Americans who are descended from a royal dynasty in India. Dr. Trisha Raje’s royal pedigree and the descriptions of their ancestral palace in India instantly made me channel Shivranjani Rajye, who is the daughter of Gaj Singh II, the current Maharaja of Jodhpur, India. I saw Shivranjani’s portrait at a recent elaborate exhibit on Rajasthan at our local art museum, where many of the pieces were from the Maharaja’s palace and personal collection.

Like the highly accomplished Shivranjani, Dev’s Trisha is at the pinnacle of her profession as a skull-based neurosurgeon and scientist at Stanford. Through ten years of dogged hard work, Trisha has developed a robotic surgical machine that allows for surgical precision that surpasses highly skilled surgeons.

Threading through this book is the story of Emma Caine who has a tumor wrapped around her optic nerves, where saving her life would make her go blind. Emma is an artist and her eyesight is everything to her soul-nourishing art. What an anguishing choice to have to make, but one that Trisha is urging her to make quickly in order to have that window of time when it is still possible to excise the tumor.

Her older brother, Darcy “DJ” Caine, who has ditched his life as a chef at a Parisian Michelin-starred restaurant to be at her side, is desperate to save her life as well. Unfortunately, like Trisha, he cannot convince her that her life is more important than her sight and that she can still have her art, just experience it differently.

In their childhood, with their father having died early and their mother having to work long, hard hours, DJ raised Emma and was brother and parent all in one. It is during this time, that he worked for an Indian lady who was well-known for her home-cooked meals. She taught him to love food and how to cook with care and expertise, thus connecting him to his Anglo-Indian roots. While his Rwandan mother is opposed to her son learning to cook — she wants him to have a high-paying professional job — she is resigned to what he does to support their poor family.

DJ combines his love for Indian food along with his training as a French chef to create dishes with his own flair as he launches his business in California so he can pay for Emma’s expensive treatments and surgeries.

DJ and Trisha meet at one of the pre-announcement dinners before her brother can declare his candidacy for the Governor of California. He is the chef for the event, and she is the prodigal daughter returned home after a nearly fifteen-year estrangement. He is entranced by her voice but she puts his back up with her snobbery. Her successes at work have bolstered her ego bordering on arrogance, but she is supremely unaware of it. In her mind, she is merely factual of her sense of self — “Do you know what my hands are worth?” – and factual about DJ when she calls him a “cook” (chef/cook are synonymous to her) and “hired help.” But DJ is stung by her haughtiness and is equally curt back at her. This sets the tone of their stormy relationship for a large part of the book despite their many interactions with each other.

Dev does a splendid job contrasting how confident Trisha is as a surgeon versus how unsure she is as a member of her family. What I liked best about this book are Trisha’s relationships with her family: her sister (caring), her cousin (generous and accepting), her grandmother (loving), her brother (distant), her mother (complicated), and her father (hostile). While her relationships with the first three stay positive throughout the story, how her relationships with the latter three evolve to becoming loving and accepting again like in her childhood are fascinating to read. Dev truly knows how to tease out the nuance between familial stressors and individual personalities.

As a child, Trisha had been sunny-tempered, confident in loving her family and being loved in return. An error in judgment with a so-called friend in college, resulting in harm being done to her brother, has her wracked by guilt, and she has been forced by her father to stay away from his anointed heir, who is destined for great things. Now, Trisha wants to return to the fold, be the daughter she was always meant to be, love again and be loved again. But the path to reconciliation is never easy, especially after such a long estrangement, and Dev has Trisha and her family work on it painstakingly step by step. I really liked that Dev didn’t introduce an ex deus machina event that resolves everything in one fell swoop.

Both large-hearted DJ and socially shy Trisha are generous of their time and care with their families even as they are snippy and brusque bordering on rudeness with each other. Without meaning to sometimes and with intention the other times, they continue to hurt each other. How Dev takes them from animosity to love is a story of scaffolding of awareness, attraction, and noticing strengths and weaknesses of each other, and eventually deciding that the other is perfect for them just as they are.

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is a women’s fiction story with a large romantic sub-plot. Trisha’s journey with her family and with DJ is an archetypical hero’s journey as defined by mythologist Joseph Campbell and refined by author Christopher Vogler. From estrangement with a call to action to challenges to a black moment to atonement, and finally, to reconciliation and acceptance, Trisha navigates it all with trepidation and courage, with tentativeness and confidence, and despite setbacks, is triumphant at last. This book ranks up there among Dev’s best work.


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