In April, the theme for my monthly readers group was Reading Surprise or Zen Reading. The idea is to pick up a book without having any idea what it’s about. This means an author you’ve never read before and no peeking at the book jacket or last page.
Now this isn’t my favorite theme. Since I buy most of the books I read, I screen them carefully in hopes of picking something I will actually enjoy. I tried several free downloads from the library website before stumbling across a book with an intriguing title through the Kindle Daily Deal. I figured it was worth a $1.99 gamble, so I bought it and what a good choice it turned out to be!
Riley’s novel is one of my favorite kinds of books, the story within a story.
It starts out with Anahita Chavan, an elderly woman celebrating her 100th birthday. She had two children, a boy and a girl, but her son went missing in England when he was only about 3 and she was given his death certificate. However, her psychic abilities tell her he was still alive and she never gave up on finding out what happened to him. She has written a memoir about her life and what happened to separate her from her son.. She decides to give the manuscript to her grandson Ari. After she dies, Ari’s life falls apart and he reads the manuscript on an airplane to London and starts trying to find out more.
In the meantime we meet Rebecca Bradley, an American actress filming a movie set in the 1920’s at Astbury Manor in England. Rebecca bears a startling resemblance to Lady Violet Astbury, grandmother of the current lord. Rebecca feels a connection to Violet and the manor that is never fully explained (except maybe by reincarnation). Things get complicated when Ari shows up asking questions about Anni’s son.
The book moves back and forth from present to Anni’s story of her life and travels between India and England. Her story is the centerpiece of the book, but the contemporary story lines are interesting also. Anni was a remarkable woman who lived in interesting times. The title comes from the name of a deep red rose.
It’s a long, complicated and at times tragic tale, well-written, often lyrical. I enjoyed the glimpse into high-caste Indian life and the soap opera-style drama around Astbury Park. (Fans of Downton Abbey should enjoy this book a lot.) I got the audio book for a few more dollars. The narration by Anjana Srinivasan is excellent. I expect I will read more books by this author.
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