Rani is your modern Indian girl with some serious photography skills. Oliver is a gifted artistv with a troubled home life. When they collide at an art show, the sparks are immediately and Rani is content to sneak around to be with him since her mother would never let her date period, let alone date a white boy. Oliver, though? He isn’t a fan of the boundaries she has on their relationship. He’s simultaneously resentful of her culture and sexually obsessed with it.
I’m not kidding about that part. He gives her a traditional Indian wedding set to wear and requests she put it on before they have sex. The fetishization is real, but Rani lets it slide at the time because she’s got her rose-colored glasses on. Plus his tempestuous moods make it hard for her to stay on solid ground in their relationship.
Even as you’re gaping at how Rani and Oliver treat one another, it’s all too easy to get swept up in their love affair, especially when it’s mostly okay in the beginning. As the novel goes on and Oliver’s behavior grows more erratic, the line between his obsession with her culture and the genuine, heartfelt experience of it within Rani’s home just highlights how unhealthy their relationship has become.
WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
Where things weaken craftwise is toward the end of the novel. Rani’s dissection of what went wrong in her relationship with Oliver walks readers through every single red flag she missed and only sees now that they’re broken up and across the world from one another while she’s with her extended family in India. There’s no opportunity to think critically about their parts in how everything happened. We’re just boarded onto the Explain Train. It’s valuable for her to think through and understand it, but
American Betiya is a remarkable novel about first love, first relationships, and first heartbreak for a modern Indian girl from a traditional family. Were it not for the didactic turn the novel takes toward the end, I’d be rating it higher. Even so, I recommend you read it. Those who have never been in love will be able to live vicariously through Rani and maybe learn something from her.