The Storyteller’s Secret: A Novel, by Sejal Badani
To be perfectly honest, I was pretty underwhelmed by the description of this book when it was offered as one of my free monthly Kindle choices. Not for any other reason, but it just didn’t sound like my “thing.” I did recall that someone I knew recommended it, so I took a leap of faith and chose it. I am thrilled that I did because this book was amazing.
The Storyteller’s Secret is a poignant story that follows three generations of Indian women. The main protagonist of this book is Jaya, an American-born journalist who is reeling from the pain of having three consecutive miscarriages and her marriage falling apart because neither she nor her husband know how to deal with the unspeakable loss. With her marriage in tatters and no friends to speak of, Jaya feels as though she has no one to turn to. Even her mother, Lena, has always been distant and cold to Jaya. For as long as Jaya remembers, she has tried to gain some insight into Lena – asking her questions about her upbringing in India and her relatives still there. Lena simply dismisses her questions and seems to recoil at the very mention of them.
Jaya’s father mentions in passing that Lena’s father is very ill and wants to see his daughter one more time. Lena wants no part of it, but the inner journalist in Jaya wants information about her family in India and she has a strong desire to meet them. She is so lost, she wants to feel a connection to something, so she takes leave to India to meet her grandfather. What she finds, instead, is her grandmother Amisha’s servant, Ravi.
Ravi is considered an “untouchable” in India - he and his family are shunned by society and treated like they are less than human. Even still, Amisha feels a connection to Ravi and she hires him to be a servant in her new home with her husband’s family. Amisha and Ravi form a beautiful friendship and she shares things with Ravi that she could never share with her husband Deepak, who just wishes for a typical subservient wife and a mother to his children.
Ravi spins a magnificent tale of Amisha’s life during the English occupation of India. I found myself riveted by Ravi’s vivid description of Amisha – who was given to her husband at the age of 15 for a dowry, but who had passions, desires, and dreams of her own in a time where her only role was expected to be that of a wife and mother. Although Ravi is obviously fond of Amisha and is forever indebted to her for the kindness she showed him, there always seems to be pain behind his eyes when he speaks of her.
As Ravi continues on with the story of Amisha, Jaya learns more and more about the country of her heritage, what life was like for the Indian people during the English occupation, the struggles of her grandmother, and the shocking truth about her mother’s childhood, providing her with laser-like insight into Lena. Jaya also learns a great deal from the lessons of her grandmother’s life about herself and is slowly able to heal her own soul.