Title: Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, A Prince, and the Search for Home
Author: Alison Singh Gee
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Publisher’s Summary: Alison Singh Gee was a glamorous magazine writer with a serious Jimmy Choo habit, a weakness for five-star Balinese resorts, and a reputation for dating highborn British men. Then she met Ajay, a charming and unassuming Indian journalist, and her world turned upside down. Traveling from her shiny, rapid-fire life in Hong Kong to Ajay’s native village, Alison learns that not all is as it seems. Turns out that Ajay is a landed prince (of sorts), but his family palace is falling to pieces. Replete with plumbing issues, strange noises, and intimidating relatives, her new love’s ramshackle palace, Mokimpur, is a broken-down relic in desperate need of a makeover. And Alison wonders if she can soldier on for the sake of the man who just might be her soul mate.
This modern-day fairy tale takes readers on a cross-cultural journey from the manicured gardens of Beverly Hills, to the bustling streets of Hong Kong and finally to the rural Indian countryside as Alison comes to terms with her complicated new family, leaves the modern world behind, and learns the true meaning of home.
Review: I have to admit that I went into Where the Peacocks Sing with a little trepidation. I’m often very hot or cold with memoirs and fiction of this style, loves stories in exotic places where a shallow person comes to realize the True Meaning of Love/Life/Home/Family through a relationship with someone else. And this story — a woman who loves Jimmy Choo shoes falls in love with a modest Indian man who then turns out to be part of a wealthy Indian family — seemed like it could be an excellent travel story or be too close to chick lit for my taste.
Where the Peacocks Sing ended up landing just about in the middle. I loved when the story focused on life in India and the way the modern world is changing the people and estates of that country, but felt disconnected from the narrator and her personal transformation because of some details that I found difficult to accept or understand.
India is a complicated place to write about or understand that seems to become even more varied with each new book about it that I read. In this case, Gee does a beautiful job writing about life at Mokimpur, an Indian manor with hundreds of room, vast fields and orchards filled with wild birds. But it’s more than just a castle — in the past, Mokimpur and the family that lived there were the center of village life and provided economic support and stability to the region. But times are changing, and families that own manors like this one are struggling to maintain their homes and their responsibilities to their neighbors. It’s a fascinating story about how modern life impacts long-held traditions, and I thought Gee did a lovely and thoughtful job describing these seismic cultural shifts with humor and understanding.
But there were also parts of the memoir where I wasn’t connecting with the, for lack of a better term, character development of the story. As readers, we’re supposed to empathize with Gee’s evolution from a spoiled society girl to a woman who can truly appreciate home and family in whatever modest lifestyle that means. But there were these small details that came up as Gee was talking about her, apparently, destitute life with Ajay that made me scratch my head — their combined salary translated from Hong Kong dollars into American dollars was “well into six figures,” and they could afford to live in a multi-bedroom apartment and hire a maid in a terribly expensive city.
Clearly this is a change from the life of glamorous, high society Hong Kong, but it was not nearly the dire straits that I had been under the impression Gee and Ajay were leading. Details like these pulled me out of the book and made me wonder what other sorts of differences in perspective there might be. Even at the most serious economic moments of the story, the main characters of this book lead lives of privilege that feel at odds with the riches to rags to rich-in-love transformation story that the narrative is built around.
Despite these sticking points — which have as much to say about my perspective on wealth as anything else — I enjoyed many aspects of this book. I’d recommend it if you enjoy lighter nonfiction and love the details you can find in evocative and entertaining travel writing.
Other Reviews: Kirkus Reviews |
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