Born to her parents in Mumbai as a result of prayer, pilgrimage, and every fertility treatment known to modern medicine, Kimaya is the first of her mother’s babies to survive after seven miscarriages. Needless to say, her parents treat her like the miracle she is, and short of putting her in a bubble they protect her from anything outside their mansion at the top of Pali Hill in Mumbai overlooking the ocean. But she develops a rare form or aplastic anemia at the age of ten that severely compromises her immune system and requires her to be isolated in a Laminar airflow room.
Trapped in her ivory tower with nothing more than the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company, she befriends the boy who shows up to wash her windows when he makes the math homework that befuddles her magically easy to understand with his brilliant mind.
Rahul Savant was thirteen when his father died in his arms after taking a bullet for Kimi’s politician father. Rahul was left to take care of two younger siblings and his mother. He accepts Kimi’s father’s mentorship on the condition that he works off the charity by being a servant in his home. As he struggles to take care of his family in his poverty-ridden, crime-ridden neighborhood he loses his beloved younger sister to illness and learns that blocking out his emotions is the only way to survive loss. He believes staying detached is staying strong and it’s the only way he can be focused enough to keep his loved ones safe. But his friendship with Kimi is something he can restrict to the few hours he spends with her across the plastic curtain of her isolation room.
As the years go by Rahul and Kimi develop a unique and deep friendship. He becomes her eyes to the outside world and she becomes his refuge in a cruel world. With Kimi’s encouragement, Rahul makes his way into the extremely selective Indian Civil Services Police Cadre. When Kimi is given a new lease on life via a life-saving procedure, she and Rahul must navigate their undeniable attraction, their lost friendship, complicated family dynamics, and a web of lies that cut too close to home to learn the real meaning of courage, loss and love.
I hate it when books with an Indian backdrop promise an “authentic Indian rep” and it ends up being a bad imitation of cheesy bollywood song-and-dance romance.
But I loved A Distant Heart for being so unabashedly Bollywoodsy in terms of setting up the world of its two main characters.
Rich Girl meets Poor Boy – CHECK
Poor Boy follows his father’s footsteps by joining the city police force – CHECK
Rich Girl’s father is a politician – CHECK
The infamous Mumbai mafia are the menacing villians in the story – CHECK
The Poor Boy is the sole bread-winner of his family who live in the Mumbai chawls – CHECK
and so on.
Yet, what makes this book rise above the cliches and the simple two-line plot are the two main characters. When Rahul stays away from Kimi, you understand. You understand Kimi’s stubbornness. Her sporadic desperation to cling onto Rahul not because she started considering him as her lover, but because he was just about the only friend she could make during her forced exile from the outside world. And if you know something about how the classic Indian stories have characters reacting to and believing in luck and superstition, you sort of get where Rahul is coming from too.
I quite liked some of the secondary characters too, especially Kimi’s parents. If there is a spin-off to this book that is a love story of Kimi’s parents (who are former bollywood stars), I would definitely read it.
The book has some really good quotable passages, my favorite ones being about making peace with circumstances and losing control of circumstances and your body when you have an illness. If there is something that could have been better, it is probably some of the dialogues. It felt clunky at times.. and well.. read too much like.. quotes? I mean, there were times it didn’t feel casual or authentic in a way you would expect people to actually converse. I also would have liked if the author had gone the whole hog with the mystery plot (instead of making it really predictable)
This plot is something that was introduced in the previous book. But, there is enough background information given, so the book worked perfectly fine as a standalone for me (since I havent read the previous book). However, I feel that I would have related to a couple of characters more if I had read the previous book (when they were first introduced)
I would recommend this book for its bittersweet romance lilting in from the mansions and chawls dotting the Mumbai landscape. Do check it out when it hits the stores this December!
(I was lucky to get an ARC of this book from Shenwei@readingasiam/wordpress. Thank you!)