The Candid Life of Meena Dave by Namrata Patel
Recommended: not really
For constant internal monologues of feelings and wishy-washy struggles with what to do. If you want a character focused book exploring identity and what people owe to each other — whether friend, family, lover, or stranger — this may work for you. If you want a driving plot with some action and tension, this probably isn’t.
Meena Dave is a photojournalist and a nomad. She has no family, no permanent address, and no long-term attachments, preferring to observe the world at a distance through the lens of her camera. But Meena’s solitary life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone in historic Back Bay, Boston.
Though Meena’s impulse is to sell it and keep moving, she decides to use her journalistic instinct to follow the story that landed her in the home of a stranger. It’s a mystery that comes with a series of hidden clues, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and a handsome next-door neighbor. For Meena it’s a chance for newfound friendships, community, and culture she never thought possible. And a window into her past she never expected.
Now as everything unknown to Meena comes into focus, she must reconcile who she wants to be with who she really is.
This book was underwhelming and there were several times I probably would have stopped reading if it weren’t for the fact that I was using this book as a prompt item in a reading challenge. It wasn’t bad, but for me it wasn’t at all compelling. It started off alright, but then proceeded to very slowly… go…. nowhere.
This is heavily character driven, which isn’t something I realized going in and wasn’t really in the mood for. Most of this book is Meena’s thoughts and feelings on the core situation she’s in: whether to keep or sell the apartment she’s inherited, how much to let in the people who are now her neighbors, how she feels about the mystery behind Neha and why she has this inheritance. There’s not much action or other plot, besides a few times of tea and a Halloween party. If you want a story about one woman’s struggle with her identity and heritage that’s been a mystery to her, this will work. If you want more plot progression, you’re out of luck.
I was in the latter group, unfortunately. However, one thing I appreciated was that there’s an element of romance in this story, but it’s not overshadowing the core things Meena is trying to work out on her own. A love interest doesn’t just swoop in to save her from herself and magically fix all her problems, you know? She has work to do on herself first, and she’s damn well going to do it.
The obvious question and mystery behind who Neha is in relation to Meena and why she left Meena the apartment was teased with the little notes Meena finds along the way. This was all that kept me hanging, but at one point towards the end Meena says she doesn’t care anymore and doesn’t actually WANT to know the answers to those questions anymore. That deflated me a bit, because it felt like a huge waste of my time to just have it be thrown out in the manner of “I don’t care anymore.” There’s a bit more to the story of it past that moment, but I was lost by that point.
As for the ending, some thoughts including spoilers.
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Well, I didn’t expect that all of this would lead to one of the women being her birth mother, and I especially didn’t expect it to lead to an angry revelation that the mother still didn’t want Meena in her life — and in fact, very much wanted her out of it. It’s the angry-ish neighbor that runs the building by the way, but I forget her name because so much of this book ended up being forgettable to me. On the one hand, this is a pretty unusual resolution to a family revelation plot, but I think it might be unusual because it wasn’t great. By that I mean it wasn’t really satisfying nor entertaining — I can’t speak to the experience from a perspective of someone who actually is adopted. Anyway, I was lost before the end but the end didn’t save it anyway.