Another entry for the Anuja Chauhan reading club!
Jinni (formally "Sarojini") Pande is mostly happily working as an animator, though she wishes she could animate something other than bacteria and bugs. And then her formidable grandmother Pushpa Pande sweeps in to announce her return to politics, and before she knows it, Jinni is running for MP in her home region. Complicating things is sexy childhood friend Zain, who is also running, but for the opposing party, as well as scandals, empty campaign promises, bribery, turncoats, electioneering, and all those other good things that come with politics.
I was completely unsurprised to read the author's note in the back and discover that her in-laws are a big family in politics, much as I was unsurprised to find that the author used to be in advertising for The Zoya Factor. They aren't fields I know very much about overall, especially how they work in India, but all the details felt so real, especially the ones that are almost too much to believe in and therefore probably are the bits taken right from real life. I am guessing these are the kinds of books that are even funnier if you actually know the topic, as opposed to the ones that make you roll your eyes because all the details are off? Yes? No?
Anyway, it reminded me most of Taiwan election season, albeit with less acrimony, and I love how Chauhan is totally making fun of the ridiculous things going on while also taking Jinni's idealism and desire to change things seriously, as well as the various issues that Jinni will have to tackle if she's elected.
As pretty much everyone else who has read this has said, the key relationship isn't the Jinni-Zain romance, but rather Jinni's relationship with her larger-than-life grandmother, who is bigoted, wily, unscrupulous, completely unmoveable, and absolutely awesome.
I also loved the overall look at growing up in a political family. At first, I didn't quite buy Jinni just taking off from work to help with a political campaign at the beginning of the book, but after reading about her memories of various campaigns, her grandfather's political legacy, all of her grandmother's work, and her own idealism, it made so much more sense. That said, I did want to see more of Jinni shifting from running just for her grandmother to running for her own sake and for the desire to have the power to make the changes she thought should be made. It's definitely there in the book, from her daring midnight rescue to her observation of how so many politicians made people promises and still the schools weren't fixed, the roads sucked, and the wells got co-opted, but I would have liked that more in the forefront. I also wanted more of Bauji, Jinni's freedom fighter politician grandfather, and her memories of him, as well as the complicated relationship he and her grandmother had, and I especially loved the bits we see of her mother.
I feel like there's an entire novel there as well, being the daughter who abandons the family legacy and takes off only to have your own daughter return to the fold. And it was really refreshing to have Jinni's mother be the NRI living happily in Canada and Jinni herself being the one to return to India, at least when compared to the prevalence of "conflicted identity hyphenated USian teens battling their immigrant parents' expectations" books I've read. (Don't get me wrong, I love it too, especially since that is a big part of my own experience, but it's always nice to have different narratives.)
If you can't already tell, I liked this a lot better than Chauhan's first book, which didn't deviate enough from chick lit tropes for me. Unsurprisingly, the Jinni-Zain romance is actually my least favorite part of the book; I like the childhood memories well enough, and the whole "can I trust him? Is he just messing with me?" back and forth makes a LOT more sense when it comes to your election rival, but Zain kind of loses my interest in comparison to the Pande family dynamics.
I did like that Jinni and Zain will continue to battle each other in politics and that he doesn't hold a grudge re: dirty political tricks, but Chauhan lost me a bit with Bauji trying to set them up as kids, as well as Amma eventually wanting the two to get together as well.
I didn't have the same reaction to Amma's over-the-top orchestration around her dying and getting Jinni to run, since I completely believe Amma would do that. And in how she revels at the timing of her death and how it will get Jinni huge sympathy votes. (Though I did wonder a bit at the believability re: Jinni's age.) I also love that even though Amma is hilarious and awful and tries to thrust big golden poles into the small holes of Jinni's ears, we also get to see some of her political legacy, from the underserved people she tries to protect (albeit out of fond honeymoon memories), and some of what she meant to people, especially at her funeral.
Anyway, definitely recommended, and in case I made it sound serious and unfun, it is hilarious and includes a scene with Jinni putting a condom on a large wooden penis. For politics, of course.
(And I want a book about Munni.)
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