Author Sonali Dev’s new novel is an Indian twist on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Sonali Dev’s newest book, “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors,” is an Indian take on Jane Austen’s classic, “Pride and Prejudice.”

In the 300-room Sagar Mahal, the Ocean Palace built by her great-times-four grandfather on the Arabian Sea, 13-year-old Trisha Raje is coached by her father not to be overwhelmed by the sorrow she sees at a school for the blind but instead find a solution, so she doesn’t feel badly.

And so, she does. Before long, Trisha has created a global charity that performs eye surgeries on the needy and then becomes San Francisco’s premier neurosurgeon, a woman with immense skill but so lacking in social graces that many in her family are not talking to her, as she once inadvertently jeopardized her older brother’s fast-track political career.

But that isn’t Trisha’s only difficulty in Sonali Dev’s newest book, “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors,” an Indian take on Jane Austen’s classic, “Pride and Prejudice.”

Dev switches up the focus between Trisha and DJ Caine, a rising-star chef whose cancer-stricken sister is a patient of Trisha’s. Trisha is a descendent of Indian Royalty, while Caine, a Rwandan/Anglo-Indian, belongs to a much lower social class — the classic Austen-style mismatch.

To paraphrase Austen, Dev writes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian-American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep,” and the book reflects classic Austen, with its subtle ironic humor and the structured setting required in any well-to-do aristocratic English or Indian milieu.

Trisha has broken the three ironclad rules of her family: Never trust an outsider, never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations and never, ever, defy your family.

Trisha must cope with falling in love with Caine, saving his sister and ensuring that she will not somehow disgrace her family again.

Dev, who is married with two teenagers and lives in Naperville, says she’s been entranced with Jane Austen’s book since watching the Indian TV adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” called “Trishna,” in the 1980s when she was a middle-schooler.

“I went straight to the library and checked out “Pride and Prejudice” and read it over and over,” she says.

As for writing, Dev says she wrote before she could even read, making up stories and characters, noting she wrote and acted in her first play when she was 8. “Writing has always been with me,” she says.

She grew up in Mumbai though the family traveled a lot as her father was in the military.

“I was always the new kid on the block with a book,” she says.

She continues to read and write at an amazing speed.

“I am in fact waiting to get the edits back for my new book,” she says, noting that writing is an escape, a way of putting yourself in the shoes of someone not like you.

A New Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron (credit Marea Evans)As a Jane Austen fan, I was happy to interview Stephanie Barron, author of 13 Jane Austen mysteries including her most recent Jane and the Waterloo Map and Jane Austen and the 12 Days of Christmas, who was in Chicago last Saturday for a book event.Jane and the Waterloo cover (1)

Jane and the Waterloo Map is set in November, 1815, four months after the Battle of Waterloo,” Barron, who started reading her books when she was 12, told me. “Jane is in London tending to her sick brother and supervising the publication of her fourth novel, Emma, when she is invited to visit the Prince Regent at Carlton House. While on a tour of the royal palace she stumbles over the body of a dying cavalry officer, a hero of Waterloo, in the Prince’s library.”

At the event which was titled “An Afternoon with Stephanie Barron,” she also talked about her previous book in this series, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which takes place during the holiday in 1814—when England and the United States signed a treaty ending the War of 1812.”
Barron started her series in 1802 when Jane was 26 and in the latest she is 40, with only 18 months left to live. It’s a span of time when the Napoleonic Wars in England were taking place and Barron says her books are as much about the transitions in English society during those years as they are about Jane Austen’s life and work.

I asked her why she thinks Austen still continues to be popular some 200 years after her death.

“Part of Jane’s enduring appeal is that she understood how women think, and just as importantly, that women like to be appreciated and valued for their intelligence as much as their physical appeal,” she said. “Austen had an acute understanding of the human heart and human motivation; this allowed her to fashion complex and compelling characters, both male and female. Her perceptions remain true to human lives today—we’re still learning from her acute understanding.”

%d bloggers like this: