Bitter Sweets

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Overview

With this spellbinding first novel about the destructive lies three immigrant generations of a Pakistani/Bangladeshi family tell each other, Roopa Farooki adds a fresh new voice to the company of Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arudhati Roy.

Henna Rub is a precocious teenager whose wheeler-dealer father never misses a business opportunity and whose sumptuous Calcutta marriage to wealthy romantic Ricky-Rashid Karim is achieved by an audacious network of lies. Ricky will learn the ...

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Bitter Sweets

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Overview

With this spellbinding first novel about the destructive lies three immigrant generations of a Pakistani/Bangladeshi family tell each other, Roopa Farooki adds a fresh new voice to the company of Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arudhati Roy.

Henna Rub is a precocious teenager whose wheeler-dealer father never misses a business opportunity and whose sumptuous Calcutta marriage to wealthy romantic Ricky-Rashid Karim is achieved by an audacious network of lies. Ricky will learn the truth about his seductive bride, but the way is already paved for a future of double lives and deception—family traits that will filter naturally through the generations, forming an instinctive and unspoken tradition. Even as a child, their daughter Shona, herself conceived on a lie and born in a liar's house, finds telling fibs as easy as ABC. But years later, living above a sweatshop in South London's Tooting Bec, it is Shona who is forced to discover unspeakable truths about her loved ones and come to terms with what superficially holds her family together—and also keeps them apart—across geographical, emotional and cultural distance.

Roopa Farooki has crafted an intelligent, engrossing and emotionally powerful Indian family saga that will stay with you long after you've read the last page.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
By the end of this enjoyably breezy book it becomes clear that Ms. Farooki has been maneuvering her characters toward a major showdown. She contrives a twist of fate that will drag their hidden lives into the light. To her credit she does not make Bitter Sweets descend into either screwball revelations or angry ones. Despite its emphasis on deception, dislocation and the loss of love, her book retains a cheery consistency: It has managed to be sunnily devious from the start. And it delivers a refreshing message. Only by means of all their elaborate deceptions do these characters figure out who they really are.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Farooki's delightful debut novel commences in India, where Heena Rub and her father trick the Westernized and wealthy Ricky-Rashid Karim into marrying the illiterate Heena. Heena's initial deceit begets a string of deceptions that twists through succeeding generations. Daughter Shona continues the family tradition when she and her secret Pakistani boyfriend lie in order to elope and move to London. There they build a new life with twin sons Omar and Sharif. Shona remains complicit in maintaining the deceitful tradition until the expansive conspiratorial web of dishonesty and double lives threatens her sons' future. Farooki's tale almost spins out of control but finally remains true to the classical tradition of comedy, and all ends well. Along the way, Farooki entertains with witty language and lighthearted commentary on the South Asian immigrant experience. Readers expecting more lyrical writing and harder-hitting commentary should check out the likes of Salman Rushdie, Bharati Mukherjee, Arundati Roy, or Anita Desai, but with this work Farooki joins the rapidly growing ranks of talented South Asian writers writing in English.
—Faye A. Chadwell

School Library Journal

Adult/High School This multicultural comedy of manners stretches from the 1950s to the present. Nadim, a Bengali shopkeeper, comes from a long line of liars. His greatest deception has led to the marriage of his lazy, uneducated 13-year-old daughter into the wealthy Karim family of Calcutta. Henna, this child bride, is a manipulative, over-the-top adulteress. Duped groom Ricky-Rashid achieves his lifelong goals of becoming a successful businessman and finding true love late in life, but there's a catch: he becomes a guilt-ridden polygamist in the process. Aziz has had a crush on Henna since the beginning and takes over brother Ricky-Rashid's role as the caretaker of family land and becomes Henna's lover. Other members of the extended family include Shona, who elopes to London with a distant Punjabi relative; Omar, who is in the closet; and Dermot, who wants Shona to himself. Numerous other characters are witting and unwitting collaborators to deceits, secrets, and even ignorance. Through the comfortably flawed, self-deceptive, clandestine behavior of its characters, this novel achieves a level of human realism that is at once hilarious, intriguing, and achingly cringe-worthy. This is one confection that is as literarily satisfying as it is delectable.-Shannon Peterson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA

Kirkus Reviews
A deceitful marriage in Calcutta sets in motion a rolling snowball of lies and double lives which will consume three generations of a single family. Tangled webs stretch from the Indian subcontinent to England in Farooki's debut, a comic novel in which a tendency toward deception infects most of the principal characters. Encouraged by her father, teenage Henna pretends to be older and smarter than she is to snare the affections of wealthy, worldly Rashid Karim. Once married, she reveals that she's 13 and illiterate. Later, having given birth to a daughter, Shona, Henna secretly aborts her subsequent pregnancies. At age 21, Shona elopes to England with her handsome Pakistani boyfriend Parvez. Rashid too begins a new life in the U.K., having found the love Henna never offered him in faded English rose Verity. When Shona uncovers her father's bigamy, the price of her silence is the cost of fertility treatment, thanks to which she gives birth to twins Omar and Sharif. Verity, meanwhile, gives Rashid a daughter, Candida. Chickens come home to roost after the children grow up. Shona, now conducting a secret affair with a colleague, causes Rashid to have a heart attack when he sees the couple together. At the hospital, Sharif meets Candida and falls in love with her, ignorant of the fact that she is his aunt. Bad behavior and dishonesty will eventually be forgiven and forgotten, however, in a sequence of tidy conclusions. What begins as sly charm fades into something less original and endearing in this confident, heavily themed but lightweight romantic comedy. First printing of 50,000. Agent: Ayesha Karim/Gillon Aitken
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781405089289
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 2/2/2007
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

ROOPA FAROOKI was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and brought up in London.  She graduated from New College, Oxford in 1995 and worked in advertising before writing fiction full time. Roopa now lives in North London and Southwest France with her husband and son.

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Read an Excerpt

Bitter Sweets

Nadim Rub's Most Magnificent Deception

HENNA WAS THIRTEEN when she was gleefully married off to the eldest son of one of the best families in Calcutta, and her marriage was achieved by an audacious network of lies as elaborate and brazen as the golden embroidery on her scarlet wedding sari. Henna's paternal family were liars by trade, shopkeepers from the Bengal who had made their money by secretly selling powders and pastes of suspect origin, to alleviate the boredom and fatigue of the British expats serving out their purgatory in local government in pre-Independence India. Those glory days had fled with the British some ten years previously, but Henna's father was still never one to miss a business opportunity - when he heard that the wealthy, landed and unusually fair-skinned Karim family from Calcutta would be visiting their farms around Dhaka, he wasted no time in undertaking an effective reconnaissance.

His initial modest plot had been to nurture a business alliance, but he became more ambitious when he discovered that a rather more lucrative and permanent alliance might be up for grabs. He learned that their sonRashid, who preferred to be called Ricky, was of marriageable age, but was so bizarre in his preferences that his frustrated family had not yet managed to find him a wife. He had been educated abroad, and insisted that his wife be someone he could 'love', an educated, literate girl with the same interests as him.

Nadim Rub looked at his wilful, precocious daughter, who constantly missed school and cheeked her tutors, who stole her aunts' film magazines to pore over the photographs of the movie stars in thrilled girlish detail. She was athletic enough to avoid him whenever he tried to beat her for these misdeeds, sometimes nimbly running away over the neighbours' rooftops where he couldn't follow. His daughter had inherited his cunning, and her dead mother's looks. She still had an adolescent slimness but had suddenly developed enough of a bosom to pass for a woman, rather than a girl. He formulated his plan.

A shopkeeper is also a salesman, and Nadim knew exactly how to persuade his daughter to go along with him. He caught her hiding at the bottom of their overgrown garden one school day, lying flat on her stomach behind the coconut palms, while she nonchalantly studied magazines instead of her books. When Henna saw her father approach, she leaped up and prepared to run, but he appeased her with an unusually jovial smile, and offered her a paper bag of dusty sweets, which she took warily.

'Henna moni, I know you hate school. And you're too good for this provincial backwater. You should be somewhere better, like Calcutta, the honoured daughter of a wealthy family who could buy you all the sweets andmagazines you could ever desire. It's what your mother would have wanted for you.'

Henna listened with interest - Calcutta was glamorous, the sort of place where the movie stars came from. And for once, her fat, ignorant Baba was right - she did hate school.

Enlisting the help of his sisters, Nadim made sure that Henna learned to carry herself in a sari with rather more elegance that she had hitherto shown, and with careful application of kohl, rouge and powder, managed to make her look older than her years, and almost as pale as the Karims. He had her tutors teach her to play tennis, Ricky-Rashid's favourite sport, which with her natural athleticism she picked up quickly. He found out through bribing the Karims' servants which books were to be found in Ricky-Rashid's room, and bought cheap copies for his daughter to read. He discovered she was still illiterate, and almost beat her again - all his dedicated preparation ruined because his lazy harami of a daughter had wilfully chosen to waste her expensive schooling. He stormed impotently at her while she pranced elegantly on her aunt's makeshift tennis court during one of her lessons, her precise strokes cruelly making her plump teacher race breathlessly from one side to another.

'Baba, you're being silly. Just get one of these monkeys to read out some bits to me, and I'll memorize them. It's easy,' Henna said calmly, swinging her backhand return dangerously close to his ear; 'monkeys' was the disrespectful term which she used for her long-suffering gaggle of tutors. She was enjoying the charade, the pretty new clothes, the make-up, the dissembling; she even lookedforward to the prospect of learning lines from the Shakespearean sonnets her Baba had brought. It was like she was an actress already.

Nadim pulled strings, and used bribes of his suspect poppy powder to insinuate himself into Mr Karim's presence at a club gathering. He made sure he dressed well enough to look like landowning gentry himself, and in better clothes his generous rolls of fat could be mistaken for prosperity rather than greed. He pretended that the shop was his sister-in-law's family business, and that he oversaw it out of loyalty to his dead spouse. He told them about his sorrowful burden - he had a daughter so lovely and gifted that no suitable boy would dare make an appropriate offer for her; he confessed humbly that he had been guilty of over-educating her. He was worried that she would be an old maid, as she was already seventeen years old. Intrigued, Mr Karim arranged for his own reconnaissance, and saw the beautiful Henna as she visited her aunt's house in a rickshaw, demurely holding her tennis racket and appearing to be engrossed by a volume of English poetry. He was satisfied with her paleness and her beauty, although less so by her slim hips. Deciding that the worst that could happen is that she might die in childbirth giving him a beautifully pale grandson, he arranged for a meeting.

'My friends call me Henrietta,' Henna lied charmingly, offering tea to Ricky-Rashid's parents, discreetly not looking at Ricky-Rashid at all.

'And mine call me Ricky,' Ricky-Rashid answered quickly, directly addressing her delicate, painted profile, hoping he might have fallen in love at first sight with thissonnet-reading, tennis-playing beauty. She was nothing like the moneyed nincompoops he had been introduced to before. Flouting the traditional etiquette of the meeting, he instead displayed the manners of an English gentleman, and got up to relieve Henna of her heavily laden tray. He looked defiantly at his stern parents, and for once saw them beaming back at him with approval.

The Calcutta wedding was a glorious affair, Henna's premature curves barely filling out her gold and scarlet wedding sari; her thin wrists, slender neck and dainty nose weighed down with gold. Due to the generous concession of Nadim Rub in allowing all the celebrations to take place in Calcutta, despite his fervent protested wish that it had been his life's dream to give his daughter a magnificent wedding in Dhaka, the Karims matched his generosity of spirit by offering to pay for all the festivities. Ricky-Rashid had even dismissed the idea of a dowry as barbaric, to Nadim Rub's further joy and Henna's fury - the deal she had previously brokered with her father was that she would get her dowry directly to keep for herself. Sitting graciously by Ricky-Rashid's side, her lovely eyes narrowed imperceptibly as she saw her flabby Baba working the room and accepting congratulations. Casting those eyes down demurely, she vowed to keep all the wedding jewellery that her father had borrowed from his sisters; she wasn't going to let the fat fibber cheat her as well as everyone else.

Following the wedding, Henna lay in Ricky-Rashid's quarters in her new and sprawling home, eating liquorice sweets while she waited for him. Impressed by the four-poster bed, like the ones she had seen in the films, she had dismissed the maid and jumped up and down on it in herbare feet, still wearing her elaborate sari, before stretching out and trying some poses. When Ricky-Rashid finally entered, looking sheepish and nervous, carrying a book and a flower, she tipped her head up and pouted, expecting a movie-star kiss. She naively did not know that anything further might be expected of her.

Ricky-Rashid, taken by surprise by his new bride's apparent forwardness and feeling even more nervous, kissed her quickly and, reassured by the softness of her mouth, kissed her again. Something was wrong - she tasted of liquorice, like a child. Liquorice was not what he expected his first night of married love to taste of. He felt a wave of panic that he was woefully unqualified to initiate his confident bride, who was now looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and sympathy. Deciding that faint heart never won fair maiden, and deciding further that the only way out of this sea of troubles was to take arms against it and confidently stride in, he aggressively pulled Henna to him with what he hoped was a manly, passionate gesture, crushing her breasts against his chest and circling the bare skin of her waist with his hands.

Henna, disappointed by the kiss, was wondering whether to offer some of her sweets to Ricky-Rashid, and was taken utterly by surprise when he suddenly pounced on her. She jumped as though stung when she felt his clammy hands on her bare skin beneath her sari blouse, and despite her heavy sari, nimbly slipped away from him and off the bed. Ricky-Rashid was acting like one of the villains in the movies that she'd watched, and was doubtless planning to beat her - perhaps this was how husbands behaved from their wedding night onwards. No wonderher mother was dead and all her aunts such grouchy miseries.

'I won't let you,' she said warningly. She wouldn't let her big bully of a father beat her, or anyone else who had ever tried, and she certainly wasn't going to allow this milky-faced academic to succeed where so many others had failed. Her eyes flashed scornfully at him.

Ricky-Rashid's heart wilted like the drooping rose he was still holding. His attempt at manly domination had gone horribly wrong, and from being surprisingly enthusiastic, Henna now wouldn't let him near her. And no wonder - he'd acted like a thick-booted oaf. An intelligent, spirited beauty like Henna should be wooed, not tamed. That's what he'd intended when he came in with his rose and poetry - he was going to proffer her the flower on bended knee and read her the romantic verse that he knew she loved. But her tossed-back head and invitation to a kiss had distracted him, and in the ensuing liquorice-induced confusion he had let his baser instincts take over. Intending to apologize, he walked around the bed towards her, but she simply skipped over to the other side, looking at him warily. Her scorn was dreadfully attractive, and his hand still tingled from the brush with the naked skin of her slim waist.

Defeated, and embarrassed, Ricky-Rashid sat heavily on the bed. 'I'm so sorry. I wanted this to be a wonderful, romantic night for us. And I've already ruined it.' He turned to face her and held out the flower to her. 'Look, I brought you a rose.' He sighed and put it down next to him.

Mollified, Henna sat back on the bed, a little way fromRicky-Rashid, and continued eating her sweets. 'You are silly,' she said. 'How could trying to beat me possibly be wonderful or romantic?' She picked up the rose and sniffed it disinterestedly. 'I think it's dead,' she said, dropping it dismissively on the floor. She nudged the pink flower head experimentally with her prettily painted toes, separating out the soft wilted petals.

Ricky-Rashid looked at her in astonishment. 'Beat you? Why on earth would I try to beat you?' His surprise was so genuine that Henna realized she may have misunderstood his intentions, and perhaps given away her ignorance in some indefinable way.

Distracting him with a truce, she nodded towards the book. 'So what's that? More Shakespeare?'

Ricky-Rashid answered with even more genuine surprise. 'No, it's Byron.' The name was very clearly written on the cover; Henna must be terribly short-sighted. 'I brought it because there's a poem I wanted to read to you. It reminds me of you.' Hoping he might yet be able to salvage the evening, he opened it, and started to read,

She walks in beauty, like the night Of cloudless climes and starry skies; And all that's best of dark and bright Meet in her aspect and her eyes.

He paused and looked at her expectantly.

'Hmm, that's pretty,' Henna answered, hoping he wasn't expecting her to comment any further.

'It loses something in translation,' admitted Ricky-Rashid. 'Perhaps I should read it to you in English?'

'No!' said Henna shortly. In their brief meetings before the wedding, she had only just about been able to keep up the pretence that she had a working knowledge of English, although it had proved much harder than simply pretending to be literate. Despairing of her, her English tutor had eventually given into expediency, and had given her some set phrases to learn, and developed a subtle sign language that indicated to her which phrase to use when. This had worked fine when they were in the large sitting room, with her tutor sitting at a respectful distance, within her sight, and Henna enunciating, 'I Think It's Simply Wonderful' and 'Good Gracious, No' and 'Would You Like Some More?' when prompted. However, alone with Ricky she doubted that she'd last two minutes of English conversation undetected. Aware that her response had been unnecessarily vehement, she added sweetly, 'To be honest, I'm a bit too tired to listen to poetry readings.'

Ricky-Rashid had no more weapons in his amorous armoury - his flower was discharged and in pieces on the floor, and his book of Byron's romantic poetry, which he was sure Henna had said was Simply Wonderful in a previous meeting, was being summarily dismissed. With nothing else coming to mind, he decided to try his luck by pressing on with the book. 'So why don't you read the next two lines yourself? They say everything that I think about you.'

He passed the book to Henna, who took it unwillingly. She looked at the incoherent black jumble of text for a couple of moments and knowledgeably nodded, before saying in her little-used English, 'Ricky, I Think It's Simply Wonderful.'

'I knew you'd like it,' said Ricky-Rashid triumphantly. Perhaps tonight would work out after all; he edged closer to Henna, to take the book out of her hands. But as he saw how she had been holding it, that nagging feeling came back, the feeling that he had felt on their first uncertain kiss.

'But how could you read it upside down?' he asked. Something was very wrong, very wrong indeed. Why was she holding the book the wrong way round? Henna could surely not be as short-sighted as all that.

Aware that instant distraction was necessary, Henna smiled as meltingly as the movie stars she'd learned from and, holding out her slender hand to Ricky-Rashid, she said, 'You can kiss me again if you like.' When Ricky-Rashid didn't move, she moved towards him instead, and he couldn't stop himself kissing her and pulling her nubile body into his arms, while the urgent physical sensation fought with his racing mind. Liquorice again, the taste of liquorice, the supple too-slender too-girlish body, the comment about the beatings, the thickly accented Simply Wonderful, the upside-down book, and again, the unavoidable, intoxicating taste of liquorice sweets ... childhood sweets.

Controlling himself and pushing her away, Ricky-Rashid held the breathless Henna at arm's length as he looked at her closely, her lipstick and powder rubbed off by their embrace, her enormous eyes ludicrously over-made up by comparison. 'How old are you, Henna?' he asked quietly.

 

 

On his wedding night, Ricky-Rashid slept alone, tormented by the discovery, coaxed from Henna with gentle words, bribes, promises and yet more sweets, that his educated seventeen-year-old bride was actually an illiterate shopkeeper's daughter, a thirteen-year-old child who had married him as a way to skip school and fulfil a schoolgirl fantasy of becoming an actress. Disturbed by the memory of her body, Ricky-Rashid was disgusted by himself for having wanted her so much - a child, she was just a child, and he had almost ... it didn't bear thinking about. He was no English gentleman, he was practically a pervert.

It was the night that every one of Ricky-Rashid's hopes and dreams of a life lived in truth and sincerity, of an idyllic western-style marriage, was ground into a red, muddy sludge like the powder from which Henna took her name. She had stained him and blotted all his future aspirations, and he simply couldn't wash away the marks. He was forced to be complicit in the lie - she would have to remain his wife or everyone would know how he and his family had been tricked and shamed. She would have to be educated privately at his parents' house, and remain out of society until such time when she would no longer give herself away.

Ricky-Rashid had previously hoped to bring his wife with him when he returned to the varsity for his studies, but his vision of living like an English couple in his student halls had also been shattered. He would return alone, and would no longer pretend that he was the Ricky he had tried to fashion himself into, the cosmopolitan intellectual around town; from this time on, he would call himselfJust Rashid. He would not sleep with Henna until she was seventeen and had finished school, but the feelings she had innocently awoken would not go away, and in an attempt to scratch the persistent itch of desire he would spend the next few years having frustrated and unsanitary sex with kind-faced, matronly prostitutes, all the time guiltily thinking about Henna's unripe, forbidden body.

BITTER SWEETS. Copyright © 2007 by Roopa Farooki. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Roopa Farooki

Bitter Sweets is about the impact of deception on family relationships. What drew you to this story?I've always been fascinated by the dynamics of truth-telling within families, a fascination which began from observing how my own extended Pakistani/Bangladeshi family behaved. Like my character Shona, I noticed at an early age that certain things were left unsaid and unexpressed by tacit agreement for the sake of maintaining familial harmony, as though not discussing them somehow made them acceptable.

I quickly learned that this moral fog used to cover up awkward or uncomfortable realities was something shared by most families; whether motivated by kindness or convenience, the immediate instinct for many of us is to comfort and conceal with a lie rather than to hurt and expose with the truth. With Bitter Sweets, I wanted to tell a story about a family that uses deceit to hold their fragile family structure together across emotional, cultural and geographical divides, to the extent that deception and double lives becomes something of a family tradition, inherited from one generation and passed to the next. Their journey is how they learn that the lies that are supposedly binding them, are in fact keeping them apart.Does deception play a prevalent role in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant cultures?I think that many Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant families still struggle with the disparity between their traditional Eastern and Islamic values and those of the Western society in which they have chosen to live, to the extent that traditionally "unacceptable" behaviour such as homosexuality, dating, drinking or gambling are not openly acknowledged by the first generation, forcing the younger and more Westernised family members into secrecy. That said, in Bitter Sweets the moral conflicts of the characters which lead them to deceive are not a result of religious dilemmas or culture clashes, but rather due to their very personal and ambiguous emotions.Are your characters representative of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant communities?I lived in three areas of London with high proportions of immigrants -- in Tooting, Bethnal Green and Southwark -- and drew inspiration from the locals that I met there, as well as from my own experience. Bhai Hassan's sweet shop and Parvez's successful restaurant business have many real-life equivalents in Tooting. However, my characters are middle-class, which doesn't yet represent the majority of immigrants; it was recently reported in the U.K. (April 2007) that as many as two-thirds of Bengali immigrants still live in poverty.The novel opens with an arranged marriage in the 1950s -- do arranged marriages still take place? How successful are they in your opinion?Henna's arranged marriage to Ricky-Rashid was rather enlightened for the 1950s as they had the opportunity to meet each other on a few occasions before the day itself; back then, it wouldn't have been unusual for all arrangements to have been made between the heads of the families, and for the bride and groom to have met for the first time on their wedding day. Arranged marriages were the norm for my grandparents' generation, and still very common for my parents' generation -- my own parents were considered unconventional at the time, as they met at work, married for love and organised their own wedding without parental involvement or approval. Arranged marriages still take place today, in the U.K. as well as in the Indian subcontinent; those that I know of have been approached in a more modern way, allowing for much greater consultation with the potential bride and groom from the outset, and involving several meetings before they agree to the marriage. In some cases, it's more about "introduction" rather than "arrangement," as it is left up to the couple whether or not they want to proceed and get to know each other better with a view to marrying. It's hard for me to give an opinion on whether marriages like this are successful per se - as with any marriage, it depends on the willingness of both parties to work at it.How autobiographical is your book?I think it is tempting for many first-time authors to stick to what they know best and write semi-autobiographical accounts -- in my case, I got that out of my system with the first full-length manuscript I wrote, which was completed a year before I wrote Bitter Sweets, but wasn't published. Bitter Sweets is a work of fiction, but I've used my personal experience for the locations; I lived for several years in South West London's Tooting, an immigrant melting pot where Asian, West Indian and Irish cultures meet; like Omar, I read PPE at New College, Oxford University, and remember all the Oxford locations fondly from my student days. I hadn't been to Bangladesh or Pakistan for many years when I was writing Bitter Sweets, but fortunately my mother was able to re-awaken my childhood memories of these places through the stories she told. With regard to my characters, there is no single one whom I identify with, as the characters represent different aspects of myself, or the self that I would be if I were a scheming extrovert like Henna, or an unfulfilled romantic like Ricky-Rashid; like most authors, I have drawn heavily upon my own experiences of love and desire, despair and guilt, awkwardness and aspiration in creating them. How has the Asian community reacted to Bitter Sweets?I've had very positive reactions to the book; some have said that it was refreshing to come across a novel that portrayed modern Bangladeshis in such a positive light, rather than the more traditional depiction of them as poor victims dragged from their villages into urban squalor. Henna is a very different sort of Bengali housewife than we are used to seeing in the West, in that she is extrovert, unrepentantly manipulative, cosmopolitan and stylish. However, I have also been criticised in some quarters for not being "political" enough, and not representing the clash of East/West cultures as a driving force in the novel. This was a deliberate choice -- I'm fortunate enough to be of a generation that doesn't have to wear one's ethnicity as a chip on the shoulder or a soapbox to stand on; it's simply what I am. In the same way, although my characters are Asian, my concern isn't to explore issues to do with their "Asian-ness" but rather their deeper emotional and psychological motivations that are unrelated to their race - in this sense, my characters are universal, as I'm far more interested in what lies beneath the skin.What is your own Asian background?Like the twin boys in my novel, my father was Pakistani, and my mother is Bangladeshi. I was born in Pakistan in 1974, but my family moved to London when I was seven months old; by the time I was sixteen I had taken dual British/Pakistani citizenship. My family was always rather international and relaxed with regard to our Muslim faith; when my parents separated, my father married a Chinese-American Catholic, and my mother's long-term partner (who gave me away at my wedding) is English-Iraqi of Jewish origin. My sisters and I were brought up in a liberal environment where we were free to date or drink without censure, but still retained our Muslim identity. No eyebrows were raised in the extended family when I married my Anglo-Irish husband in a civil ceremony (I wore a sari, he wore a suit), although my aunt did express astonishment some years later when I explained that I'd left him at home that day to look after our baby by himself: "But he's a man! Are you sure he's capable?"When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?I've always wanted to be a writer, and wrote short stories and poems for myself when I was very young; I even wrote a science-fiction novella when I was fifteen, which I hopefully sent out to every publisher in town. I didn't think that I could make a career of writing, and so instead went into accountancy, and then into advertising. It was only when my first full-length manuscript attracted some interest from a well-known publisher back in 2003 that I decided to take some time off work in order to write full time. I left my job as an Advertising Account Director in 2004, and was lucky enough to sign a two-book contract a year later on completion of Bitter Sweets. This has been my dream job, as writing is something I do for pleasure; despite having had two children since 2005, I have already written my second novel, and am now starting to research themes for my third.
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Reading Group Guide

With this spellbinding first novel about the destructive lies three immigrant generations of a Pakistani/Bangladeshi family tell each other, Roopa Farooki adds a fresh new voice to the company of Zadie Smith, Jhumpa Lahiri and Arudhati Roy.
 
Henna Rub is a precocious teenager whose wheeler-dealer father never misses a business opportunity and whose sumptuous Calcutta marriage to wealthy romantic Ricky-Rashid Karim is achieved by an audacious network of lies. Ricky will learn the truth about his seductive bride, but the way is already paved for a future of double lives and deception--family traits that will filter naturally through the generations, forming an instinctive and unspoken tradition. Even as a child, their daughter Shona, herself conceived on a lie and born in a liar's house, finds telling fibs as easy as ABC. But years later, living above a sweatshop in South London's Tooting Bec, it is Shona who is forced to discover unspeakable truths about her loved ones and come to terms with what superficially holds her family together--and also keeps them apart--across geographical, emotional and cultural distance. 
Roopa Farooki has crafted an intelligent, engrossing and emotionally powerful Indian family saga that will stay with you long after you've read the last page.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2008

    Awesome

    I just love this book! I'm not a reader at all, but this book keeps me coming back for more. It's about love, betrayal, and another culture, which fascinates me. Although i'm not finished i'm very close!

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