Book Review: Mango Bay by Serena Fairfax

Hello everyone! How have you all been doing? I have been neglecting my blog so much and I feel guilty about it. These past few months have been extremely hectic for me. From starting three new internships to studying for my diploma to working part-time, I was treading dangerously close to being burned out. Amidst all of this, I haven’t been able to read much and I truly miss reading. But I have struck out a balance now and I am hoping to get back to my usual reading routine soon (hopefully). Anyways, enough talk about me, let’s get into the review.

Jazz clubs, yacht clubs, aunty bars and a Bollywood beauty shadowed by her pet panther. This is glamorous Bombay in the late 1950s. Love has blossomed in London between vivacious Scottish Presbyterian, Audrey, and clever Indian lawyer, Nat Zachariah. When the happy newlyweds move to Nat’s exotic homeland and the striking family villa, Audrey must deftly navigate the rituals, secrets, intrigues and desires of his Bene Israel Jewish community, and adjust to perplexing new relatives. In time, the past unlocks, old family ties unravel, lies are exposed and passions run high as different generations fall out. Then something shocking happens that undoes everything. Will this marriage that has crossed boundaries survive?

I think it’s pretty common to see books with an Indian backdrop written by non-POC writers where my country is too “exoticized” with so much focus on the colors, dresses, and monuments. I have read quite a few books set in the pre- and post-independence era written by non-POC authors and one common occurrence that I have noticed is the romanticization of the colonial period. That is completely off-putting and downright insulting to the struggle that our people had to face for the Independence of our country. However, I am glad to say that Serena Fairfax’s Mango Bay doesn’t do that. It could be because of the fact that the author spent her childhood in India before settling in London.

The book is set in the late 1950s (1956 onwards) and the story switches between England and Bombay. The main protagonists are Audrey, a Scottish Presbyterian, and Nat, an Indian lawyer whom Audrey met in London. Since the setting is the late 1950s when the Jazz age was quite a significant, we get to see the influence of Jazz both in London and Bombay. Although the Jazz age started back in the 1920s in America, it became more prominent in India after Independence as Mumbai (Bombay) saw rapid industrialization. There were mentions of jazz music, jazz clubs, and the high-society. Bombay became the center for affluency with people hustling harder.

I must say, one of the tings that stood out to me were the locations. The places are so vividly described that as a reader I felt I was being transported to those times. It was common during the late 1950s for Indians to travel to the UK for higher studies as is now. So, it wasn’t surprising to see that Audrey and Nat met at London Palaise de Danse. Britain saw a dance craze just like other parts of the world during the Jazz era and it was interesting to see such references in the book. Audrey and Nat get married and soon it’s time for them to return to Nat’s hometown in Bombay. For Audrey, the culture shock is apparent and expected.

Apart from the culture shock, Audrey also has to deal with the different family dynamics than hers. Although Audrey’s and Nat’s marriage started on good terms with both being happy. Once they reach Nat’s home in India, Audrey and Nat is seen battling with different issues in their marriage and family traditions. Adjusting to the life of The Bene Israel Jewish community in Bombay wasn’t easy for Audrey. Once both returns to India, Nat seems to be more in tune with his roots in the Zachariah family and doesn’t have any issue setting in although he lived in London for a long time.

Since this book explores more about the relationships, cultures, families, traditions, and just life in general, the story doesn’t have a lot of action. It could have gotten quite dull had there not been the elaborate descriptions of my homeland. It was nice to see my country and people not being represented as the usual Indian stereotypes. Although a lot has changed in India since the 1950s, I think the author did a good job at representing India in the 1950s. But I think Asian countries are still seen and described in somewhat “exotic” ways which doesn’t do justice to the diverse cultures that India boasts of. But it was good to see that Serena described India as best as she could without over exaggerating or writing the stereotypical characters. I also liked that a glossary of some of the Indian words mentioned in the story were included at the beginning which would come in handy for non-Indian readers.

If you’re looking for a tender story that explores multiple cultures and sheds a light on the different aspects of family and relationships, you can definitely read Mango Bay.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Serena spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England, and worked in a London firm for many years.

Some of her novels have a strong romantic arc although she burst the romance bubble with one quirky departure. Other novels pull the reader into the dark corners of family life and relationships. She enjoys the challenge of experimenting and writing in different genres.

Her short stories and a medley of articles, including travel perceptions and her reviews of crime fiction and thrillers, feature on her blog.

Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena traded in bricks and mortar for a houseboat that, for a hardened land lubber like her, turned out to be a big adventure. A few of her favourite things are collecting old masks, singing and exploring off the beaten track.

Serena and her golden cocker spaniel live in London.

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Sohinee Reads and Reviews

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