Bitter Sweets: A Novel

Bitter Sweets: A Novel

by Roopa Farooki

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312382063
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 09/30/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About 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.

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.

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.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Shona's Cookbook: Helpful Hints from the Worst Cook in Tooting

Fried Eggs
People think that fried eggs are easy, but they're not. It's scrambled eggs that are easy; easy to make, that is, not quite so easy to scrape the tattered remains out of the pan afterwards, and the dishwasher just seems to weld the bits on even more. The trick with fried eggs is not to put too much oil in first, or they'll stick. And to keep the heat moderate—too high, and the bottoms burn before the tops are cooked.
A lid helps to cook them through, and my little trick is to use a teaspoon to drip a bit of the oil over the yolks, to seal them. I was always quite proud of my fried eggs; they were one of the few things I made that were on the beter side of acceptable.

Chocolate Cheesecake
Crush 200g chocolate biscuits and mix with 100g melted butter.
Pat down in the bottom of your cheesecake dish.
Pop in fridge to chill.
Mix 500g crème fraiche with three tablespoons of brown sugar.
Melt 200g of chocolate (you can do this the old-fashioned way, in a glass bowl above a pan of simmering water, but I do it in the microwave, much quicker…) and stir in the crème fraiche mixture, a dollop at a time, with a dash of brandy. (Don't pour all the hot melted chocolate diretly into the crème fraiche in one go—I did it once, and it curdled the cream…still tasted good, though!)
Sprinkle some raspberries over the chilled biscuit base, and then add your chocolate cream mixture over the top, covering the base with a thick layer. Try swirling it with a fork to make it look pretty, and then cover with chocolate shavings. (You do these with a potato peeler on a block of chocolate.) Pop the dish back in the fridge and wait for the cheesecake to set; it takes about three hours. And then, enjoy…

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Sometimes I cheat and make these from a packet recipe, although there's something funny about the packet recipes that I buy: No matter how vigilant I am at the oven, they always manage to burn. (I used to be so vigilant that I opened the oven door every two minutes to check on them, but then they didn't cook at all, and just melted into a soggy mess.)
I suppose it might not be a fault with the packet recipe, as to be honest, they still burn when I make them from scratch. Maybe there's something wrong with the oven; I remember reading somewhere that French ovens cook from the bottom-up. That's why all those French fruit tarts come out with such perfectly crisp, golden bases.
Which is what happens to my cookies—only just a bit too crisp, and more charcoal than golden. I've given up trying to get them right; what I do now is just add double the amount of chocolate chips you're meant to. If you do that, I find that most people will eat them anyway, no matter how bitter and burnt the biscuit is.

Eating in Tooting: Roopa Farooki on Her Favorite Local Restaurants and Sweet Shops
I lived in Tooting for four years, surrounded by the richness of the subcontinental restaurants, sweet shops and grocers, and so it was a natural decision to set the main part of Bitter Sweets there. My husband and I got to love some of the local restaurants so much that they used to send us Christmas cards—very thoughtful of them, but also perhaps a subtle indicator that we should have been getting take-always a bit less often. Here are a few of my favorite places.
—Roopa Farooki

Rick's Café
122 Mitcham Road
Vijaya Krishna
114 Mitcham Road
Kastoori
188 Upper Tooting Road
Pooja
168 Upper Tooting Road
Ambala Sweet Centre
48Upper Tooting Road


1. Is a lie told in love acceptable or still deceitful?

2. What is the most damaging relationship in the Bitter Sweets, both to itself and the surrounding family?

3. Which character do you empathize with the most in the book and who do you feel is the most selfish?

4. Is an affair acceptable if the two people involved are genuinely in love? Take a moment to discuss the theme of faith and faithfulness in Bitter Sweets.

5. Which relationship do you think has the best hope for the future?

6. Did you expect the Bitter Sweets to end the way it did? In what ways did meet, or even exceed, your expectations?

Interviews

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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Bitter Sweets 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Clara53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A disappointment. While I rather liked the author's fourth novel ("Half Life") - to the extent that it got me curious and made me go back to read her debut work - I was disappointed in "Bitter Sweets". To me, it seemed as if this book was written by another person. Strange as it may seem, in this book the plot is much better than the writing itself. So I rather struggled through the novel, losing interest. On the other hand, if we think of writing as a process of gaining experience and getting better, in my humble opinion this is what is happening with this author: the fourth novel being much better than the first. Thus, I am not discouraged and will probably look for R.Farooki's 2nd and 3rd novels.
ladydzura on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started and finished Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki in one night. I really, really wanted to like this book. I picked it up at the store because the blurb on the back cover sounded intriguing, but the content of the book was not what I expected at all. The story focuses mainly on Shona, the product of a relationship built on lies. Shona's father was tricked into marrying her mother, and Shona's mother spends her entire life manipulating people. Shona herself elopes to London with an 'unsuitable' boy and starts a life there with her husband, telling little white lies along the way. In the meantime, her father begins working in London and begins to lead a double life, further complicating things with more deception. Things eventually come to a head and all of the worlds collide shortly before a series of ridiculous and unbelievable happy endings.I think Roopa Farooki certainly has the potential to be a good writer. This novel, though, could have been so much more. The characters lacked any kind of depth, and I found myself wanting to know more about them but being disappointed. The story is sweet but not nearly substantial enough -- good for a quick fluffy read, but not much more.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received Bitter Sweets from a Shelf Awareness advertisement with the agreement that I¿d read and review it. Frankly, it took great effort to get through the first 50 or 60 pages. What bothered me most were the characters. They were one-sided and implausible. First, there was Henna¿s father, who was greedy and dishonest, with absolutely no redeeming characteristics. Then there was Henna herself, dishonest, lazy and illiterate, her only good quality a pretty face. Ricky falls for her charade and his entire family grows to care for her more than Ricky himself. Why? I can¿t figure that one out. As I read a little further, the story gained some momentum so that it was not quite as much of a chore to finish. It had a breezy, soap-opera quality to it. It¿s partly the story of a man with separate families in two countries, which he strives to keep secret from one another. It is also a story of a boy who unknowingly falls in love with his mother¿s sister, but not really. The convolutions in the plot go on and on. I expected the novel to include a little of the culture of India or Bangladesh, but most of the characters were bland enough that they could have been anyone, anywhere. No, actually, they couldn¿t. This is a story about people who never could have been, with a plot that never could have happened. Except on a soap opera
dianaleez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While we may all be guilty of a few convenient lies, this is the story of a family who seems to smooth their way through life with numerous Biggies. The result, of course, is a tangled web. And watching them fall apart gives the reader a certain macabre satisfaction. That said, the majority of the characters are likeable, the author's style is fluid and easy to read, and the outcome is satisfying.
ellengryphon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If, as Keats says, 'Beauty is truth, truth beauty - that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,' then the world created by Roopa Farooki is ugly. The plot hinges upon a series of lies told told by and to family members, and how those lies seep into the characters' very core. While the plot was interesting, much of it was, well, unbelievable. This was a LibraryThing Early reviewers book that I put off reading for months. I never really connected with it, but appreciated the glimpses into Indian, Pakistani and Bengali culture.
lorena_lynn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was disappointed in the first few chapters of Bitter Sweets. Blowing through some forty years of family history, it read like a failed attempt to imitate a Salman Rushdie style multi-generational family saga (think Midnight's Children). I was tempted to put the book down and stop reading, but I'm glad I didn't. Once the action moved from Bangladesh and Pakistan to England, it felt as if the author finally came into her own, especially in the depictions of the two teenage sons. I also found myself annoyed with the ending, everything ended up being wrapped up much too neatly, with a giant bow on top. Overall however, I felt Bitter Sweets showed some definite promise, and was an enjoyable, engaging read.
jesssh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Farooki presents a unique balance of the light-hearted and elements of a soap opera in this epic tale that centers on the damage that can be done through deception. This story won't be for everyone and I personally prefer some other books I have read that evoke a similar story or themes (such as Jhumpa Lahiri's work), but it is worth a try for someone seeking something with a little family-focused weight that's not "heavy."
Bbexlibris on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A tale of a family who's only facts are interwoven with deceit and false pretensions. Starting out with the lies told in order to become an actress, the grandmother in this story filles her lips with words that are not true in order to capture he ticket out of the country. Once this one ancestor allows lies to be such a central aspect of her life, she not only impacts her own life, but the life of her deceived husband and passes it on in different forms to the generations that follow. A history of falseness is all that the future generations have to live up to. Love, loss, change and growth are themes of Roopa Farooki's Bitter Sweets novel. A family's story through three generations of learned deception and what it takes to break free from the expectation to cover-up and pretend-- to lie.No matter how much lying the characters are doing to eachother, the truth stood stronger and spoke louder than any lie. This was a great interesting, fun read and was so good. I have read some reviews that said it was superficial, I don't agree. I felt the author did an excellent work with her characters, settings and working in beautiful and timeless themes. This is the story of an Indian family, that is split between two nations but could be the story of so many as the daily lives they lead are very easy to relate to. I did enjoy this book throughly.Roopa Farooki brings up questions of love, true love and arraigned marriages, however in this book truth is the strongest theme. Where would your family be without truth? She brings up and interesting concept, that truth can sometimes be told at the expense of hurting our loved one only to selfishly clear our own conscience. I loved reading Bitter Sweets, it was interesting to see how things took place.What do you think? Is it truth at all costs or does it depend? It seems to me that truth may hurt for an instant, but mending is on its way....while lies form a web of guilt and pain that smothers love. What are your thoughts? Farooki portrays the Indian culture as valuing appearance over honesty, I would say the same is true in many parts of America (if not all). What do you think, does our culture value appearance over truth? Which wins here politeness or honesty?
Fluffyblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book started off quite slowly, and it felt like it was going to be a chore to read. However, as is often the case, once I'd got about a third of the way through the book I started to really get into it and struggled to put it down. The story is well woven together and is about deception and its consequences. It was actually very thought-provoking.
msjoanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A surprisingly good first novel. The author explores the role of family secrets and deception in the lives of her characters, as well as the common theme of children repeating the patterns of their parents. The characters in this book aren't fully realized and their lives intersect and replicate in ways that are slightly too contrived and convenient. Nonetheless, the book was highly readable and enjoyable and managed to wrap up the tale in a relatively satisfying way without falling too deeply into the trap of writing an epilogue that describes everything that happens to the characters for the next two decades. This strikes me as an author to watch -- I wouldn't rush to recommend this book, but the author definitely shows promise.
lecia1167 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! I had never heard of this author, and a friend of mine recommended it. The characters are so full and genuine. This book really shows the complexity of relationships within a culture that still has arranged marriages but also gives a rich story about struggles to fit in when moving to a new country. It also speaks honestly about how India-born parents struggle when their children are born in a westernized country. A really wonderful read!
asawyer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this book as an Advance Reader's Edition - requested as the author was compared to Jhumpa Lahiri. After reading it, I don't think this comparison is very appropriate. The writing styles are very different. This book is very readable and pleasant, though not necessarily engrossing. Roopa Farooki has written a light, breezy book that, rather than capture the detail and emotion of a particular time or character, covers decades within a few pages. The book's theme, the lasting effects of untruths and deceit, are hammered home with multiple instances snowballing together. Three generations of a family, all learning from their parents to hide the unpleasantness of their lives, eventually collide. This story covers almost too many of typical familial tensions: infidelity, cultural boundaries, ... (not to give it all away). Many of these story lines evolve fairly transparently removing the surprise of the anticipated "twists". The one similarity that I found with Lahiri's work is that while this story is about an Indian family, the theme is universal. This may be (in Farooki's book) because the cultural aspects are handled rather lightly given the breadth (both time and topical) vs. depth of the story.Overall, I enjoyed the book as a light beach/airplane read (fortunately that's where I was), but wouldn't recommend it as a "must read" book.
MsGemini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a fast paced enjoyable read. The story followed the lives of 3 generations. There were some twists to the story, some I found to be predictable. Overall, I liked this book and would recommend it to others. I look forward to more from Roopa Farooki.
revzonian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful first novel and a quick read. The characters were well developed, the stories were weaved into one another nicely, and the ending was full of hope and enough happiness to go all around. However, I think the book would have been even better had it not ended so hastily. I wanted to know how the conflicts were resolved - the ends were tied up too easily - I wanted more drama. The characters had been built up to have these strong emotions and then it felt like the balloon was deflated too quickly. Overall a good read.
redladysbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received this book as part of the Early Reviewer group here at Library Thing and from St. Martin's Griffin Publishers. My copy is an Advanced Readers' Edition Trade Paperback that will be published in October 2008. The book also includes a Reading Group Gold Section in the back of the book that includes: -An Interview with the author Roopa Farooki-Food For Thought-Reading Group QuestionsRoopa Farooki's debut novel is a richly woven tale of three generations of a family with Indian, Pakistani and English backgrounds. The author was able to tell the story through the viewpoints of many characters in the book very smoothly. The main character that stood out for me in the story was Shona, the daughter of Henna and Ricky-Rashid who were brought together through an arranged marriage filled with deception. Shona, their only child, married Parvez a young man of Pakistani descent that her parents did not approve of as they were of Bangladeshi descent. They had twin boys who grew up to be very different in nature and personality. The main theme of the book is on the impact that lies and deception can have on a family. At one point, near the end of the story, Shona comes across a quote in a book that makes her question if deception is something she could change. She made a decision that would change the dynamics of her family. I liked Shona's character in the story and how her character along with other characters grew and matured. I disliked Henna, as she appeared to be a very selfish woman who rarely showed love or attention to her husband or daughter unless it was for her own personal gain. The author commented in an interview in the back of the book that explains much about the characters "...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." Forbidden love as well as faith and fidelity are other strong themes in the book. There were surprises and twists and turns all through the story. I enjoyed reading each creative chapter title as it was a glimpse ahead to the next storyline and it made me want to keep on reading. I was pleased with the ending of the book and where each character ended up in their stage of life. I can imagine a sequel to this book as it would be very interesting to see what happens to the characters next and how their choices may efffect the next generation. I look forward to reading more books by this author and from information from the authors blog a new book will be out in the US next year in 2009.
buildalife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I greatly enjoyed this aptly titled multigenerational saga. The story is intricately woven and transcends nationality and locale. The ending was a little too perfectly tied up but did have a decent twist. I look forward to future books by Farooki.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Bitter Sweets is the story of three generations of a Pakistani family. Beginning with Ricky-Rashid and his marriage to the duplicitous Henna, the story then jumps to their daughter Shona, who elopes to England. She eventually has two sons, Omar and Sharif. All the major characters engage in lies, lies, and more lies: cheating, adultery, plagiarism, etc. It gets to the point that the characters can't tell the difference between what is real and what is not. Everything comes to a climax when Ricky-Rashid has a heart attack, and the characters are forced to face their deceptions head-on.The book is excellently written, with an eye for minute detail. Roopa Farooki's writing style reminds me a lot of Zadie Smith, especially with regards to the plot. It was maybe for this reason that I really liked this novel. I really look forward to reading more of Farooki's writing in the future.
juliayoung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Roopa Farooki's first novel is quite the achievement. It starts with a wondrously complex story about a Bengali family, and draws the reader into the complex relationships the family members have forged. The main disappointment, to me, at least, is the too-neat wrap-up at the end; for a book that has made a point of saying that life is neither simple nor pure, it seems a bit disingenuous to provide us with a conclusion that is both.
blakefraina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Roopa Farooki¿s delightful confection of a book tells the story of three generations of a family of deceivers. Despite their many peccadilloes ¿ sloth, dishonesty, infidelity and bigamy chief among them ¿ Farooki has created a colourful and loveable bunch of characters that are a complete joy to get to know. The novel starts with the marriage, under false pretenses, of Henna Rub, an underaged Bengladeshi shopkeeper¿s daughter, into the established landowning family of Ricky-Rashid and ends (some fifty years later) with an extended family gathering in a London park for a performance by her grandson¿s rock band. In between these two events we follow the family of Henna and her erstwhile husband to London where their only daughter, Shona, elopes in a ¿love marriage¿ to Parvez, a penniless Pakistani. Shona and Parvez give birth to twin sons ¿ timid, bookish Omar and rakish, womanizing Sharif. These six characters spend the entire novel deceiving one another and, just as often, themselves, in their quest for fulfillment. While the book has no shortage of light moments, it¿s essentially a drama and, as such, I was surprised at how deceptively light and easy it is to read. It has a touch of Moliere about it, with its myriad misshaps, misunderstandings and just misses. As they say, Oh what a tangled web we weave...It¿s one of those rare books that I couldn¿t wait to get back to each night, to see what twists the story would take. The author lets the reader see into the thoughts of all the main characters, jumping from person to person, often within one scene. The technique is effective in creating tension, since the reader always knows when two characters are at cross purposes. This comes particularly useful in a story about a group of liars. But it also creates empathy. Even the least likeable characters are allowed to tell their side of the story and Farooki trusts her readers to formulate their own judgments about them. Even the lazy, narcissistic Henna.My only complaint is that the resolution happens too suddenly and all seems a bit too pat. Almost as if Farooki ran out of steam. I found the story so enjoyable, the writing style so effortless and breezy and the characters so appealing, which probably explains my disappointment that the whole thing ended a tad too abruptly. All in all, a sparkling debut. I will definitely check out her future work.
Fullmoonblue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review-draft in Process... I am currently reading this novel, which I received as an Early Reviewers ARC. So far, Farooki reminds me a bit of the writer Meera Syal. (Only, to this point, I like Syal's work better.) For instance, there's tons of heavy family/friends/love-related drama... descriptions of people's flats and clothes and and eating/drinking regularly come up, which gives the story a slightly 'popular literature' or 'mass market' feel to it. I'm looking forward to finding out how gracefully Farooki's characters will resolve their conflicts. That'll give me a final sense of how much I enjoyed reading it.
kohsamui on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Dark clouds of depression, they leak from every pore, Our loved ones¿ lies and repression, can¿t protect us anymore¿ The quote above is meant to be a lyric in a song written by a heartbroken teenager upon discovering a nauseating secret about his true love. Does this sound like the voice of a teenager? Not to me. To me it sounds like the voice of every other character in this somewhat tedious book. To me it sounds like a bad creative writing project rather than a genuinely anxious kid. The characters were not distinctive, interesting, likeable, engaging or humorous. The plot¿s absurd twists and turns were predictable and tiresome. Halfway through this book I expected to like it against my better judgment, the setting and the potential for the characters intrigued me. However, it became truly ridiculous in the second half and though I wanted to, I could not like this story. There are glimmers here and I look forward to a less contrived, more original, and more genuine work from Roopa Farooki in the future.
Neverwithoutabook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting book, not so much for it's look at Pakistani & Indian culture, as it is an exploration of the way in which human beings lie to and deceive each other and the consequences that can occur. This was not a difficult book to read and did hold my attention throughout. I had thought about halfway through that I 'knew' the ending but then there was a twist or two to the story. This is a story of three generations of a family and the ties that keep them together. A story of keeping up appearances even when we are aware that everything is not quite what it appears to be. It is also a story of discovery in which the characters learn not only of the secrets each are hiding from each other, but also of the ones they hide from themselves. I enjoyed this first novel by Roopa Farooki, and would definitely be interested in reading her future work. Bitter Sweets is colourful and full of characters one can both like and dislike. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys light reading.
jforjules on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading my ARC of Bitter Sweets, a multi-generational tale of deception and love. I was not drawn into the book immediately, feeling that the introduction to the story seemed abrupt. As the book progressed, I became engrossed in the characters and enjoyed the story as a good, quick read. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but felt that the themes were a bit over-simplified, or just plain spelled out for the reader in black and white. The ending was a bit tidy, but doesn't detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.
kattepusen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was so excited to read this book - especially since its cover boasted similarities to Jhumpa Lahiri as well as Zadie Smith. Marketing based on name-dropping can be seductive; however, in this case it backfires tremendously since the product is so inferior to its proposed company. First-time author, Roopa Farooki, seems to be constantly trying to convince us that she really is a serious writer in "Bitter Sweets"; however, the one-dimensional characters, artificial situations, and over-explanatory grad-student language can't disguise the banality of it all. The theme of the novel is supposed to be deception, or as it is spelled out on the back cover: "Why is deception so delicious?"The story involves female trickery to get married, mothers who are either too busy for their children or who constantly burn the dinner, secret fertility treatments that turn out "startling" results towards the end of the story, spouses who cheat or become bigamists (but always for justifiable reasons), incestuous (or not?) relationships and, of course, the predictable gay surprise. All in all, it is at times quite entertaining, however, it seems manufactured to appear similar to the current popularity of Indian/Muslim/Culture Clash literature - chick lit light style...And then there is the language...It is mostly straight-forward and most everything is tediously explained to bits, but then there are the sprinklings of achingly bad similes and descriptions. I just have to quote some of my favorites:"His caramel-colored chest was smooth and hairless, and the muscles in his back moved like poetry as he pulled on a pair of casual trousers". (poetry...?)"The engagement thus confirmed, Ricky truly was the happiest man on earth" "...(she) was gaining weight at an alarming rate..." "He kissed her on the forehead again, holding her temples gently on either side. This is what I like about you, right here, in your head. It's like the British Museum, with hidden gifts in hidden rooms. I want to wander in it with you and roam around""Ricky felt an icy hand close around his heart - it was too much, it felt like his heart was breaking""But he knew that nothing but utter oblivion could take away the pain he felt in the deep pit of his stomach, in the throbbing chambers of his heart which was thumping so loudly he thought the treacherous organ might explode out of his chest and fly after Candida, falling in a bloody, irresolute heap at her terrified feet" (whew...)In conclusion, this quick-read novel has a tempting premise; however, it is just so painfully trite, including the Disney ending. Try again, Farooki.