Not one to idly sit through his retirement, Mr. Ali is determined to keep himself occupied by starting his own business. He posts a humble sign outside his gate, and in that instant Mr. Ali’s Marriage Bureau for Rich People is born. After a rocky start, the business begins taking off. Families in search of Hindu, Muslim, and Christian brides and grooms–many with very specific requests regarding things like castes (and subcastes), dowry size, and education–begin flocking to Mr. Ali for assistance in finding the perfect match; with the spike in popularity, it becomes apparent that he needs an assistant.
Enter Aruna, a quiet, pretty, dependable young woman who is committed to contributing some income to her impoverished family. She catches on quickly and soon begins to flex her own matchmaking muscles, helping Mr. Ali figure out even their most seemingly impossible cases, like the divorced woman looking for her own match (something almost unheard of), and the man who wants to find someone over 5’10″ tall for his 4’8″ daughter. It’s fun, tiring work, but underscoring everything is the fact that Aruna has little hope of ever getting married herself–her family is simply too poor to lose out on the extra income, and her father refuses to find a good match for her.
The book, which channels elements of Pride and Prejudice at times, is a positively delightful read. It’s set in Vizag (on India’s east coast), which is not exactly as fast-paced as larger Indian cities like Bombay, but is growing each year. I loved the tidbits that shed light on the traditions of Indian Hindu, Muslim, and Christian weddings, and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the world of marriage bureaus (a job I’m sure would drive me nuts with all of the customer demands).
The revolving cast of customers who come through the doors of the marriage bureau take up a significant portion of the book, but there are a lot of other things going on as well. Aruna, of course, is struggling with her own hopeless situation in the marriage department. Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Ali are at odds with their son, who prefers to spend his time as an activist for disenfranchised villagers in rural India–an illuminating subplot in its own right–rather than settle down, find a “real” job, and get married.
Zama didn’t exactly chart new territory in terms of plots, but I couldn’t care less. It’s an engaging book, and it made me all kinds of happy. If you’re looking for something romantic and light but not overwhelmingly sugary, read this! I can’t wait to see what Zama’s next book has to offer.
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People was originally published by Amy Einhorn Books on June 11, 2009. It was released on paperback on June 1, 2010 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin.