Book Review

The Storyteller’s Secret

The Storyteller’s Secret

  • Author: Sejal Badani
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: September 1, 2018
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

CONTENT WARNING: miscarriage, infertility, grief, misogyny, prejudice, attempted suicide, blood, violence, child abuse

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A family secret reveals a tragic, beautiful love.

Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.

Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation. Through her courageous grandmother’s arrestingly romantic and heart-wrenching story, Jaya discovers the legacy bequeathed to her and a strength that, until now, she never knew was possible.

This book quickly pulled me in, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m always intrigued by a good historical fiction, especially one that takes me to places and times in which I’m not familiar, and this one did exactly that. 

It starts in 2000, with Jaya’s story. She’s going through an extraordinarily painful time in her life, experiencing a third miscarriage, and shortly after, the breakdown of her marriage. Feeling adrift and with very little tying her down, she decides to follow a lead to learn more about her family’s past, which she knows almost nothing about.

“The miscarriages have stripped me of my sense of self. In my desperation for a child, everything else fell to the wayside—including me.”

It takes her to India, a country she’s never visited. And when she goes to visit her grandparents’ home, she discovers her grandmother’s servant, Ravi, who is ready to tell her a story he promised to keep secret until the right time. And then we’re thrust into the 1930s, into a completely different India, one under British occupation.

As we learn more about Amisha, Jaya’s grandmother, I found myself getting more invested in her story. She was fascinating, and absolutely a woman ahead of her time. Amisha was more of a feminist character than women were supposed to be, and while she started out with small rebellions, they eventually got a bit bigger, although she still tried to adhere to cultural and societal standards. To Amisha, her role as a mother was the most important thing, and everything she did was weighed against that, and how it would affect her children. But she was a writer, and there were stories inside her begging to be told. No matter what she was told about her writing, she couldn’t stifle it.

“Her writing was her greatest contribution to a society that would not value it.”

The book vacillates between Jaya and Amisha, and although I was more invested in Amisha’s story at first, eventually Jaya’s character grew on me. She showed a lot of growth, especially as she learned more about her grandmother and the people she meets while she’s in India. Her trip becomes a life-changing visit, but not in a cliched way. 

“For all of my surety about coming, I now wonder what I was thinking. I am all alone in a place that holds nothing for me and no one to care.”

The writing was evocative and beautiful, although the plot was very predictable. I knew what was going to happen long before it did, so the twists didn’t catch me by surprise. However, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the story and becoming emotionally attached to the characters and reading furiously throughout the day and night. It’s a gorgeously told story, brought to life. I found myself smelling the incense, hearing the bronze bells being rung, and feeling myself surrounded by the characters while I read the story, as though it transported me along with Jaya. 

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