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Book Review: Haveli by Zeenat Mahal

Title: Haveli
Author: Zeenat Mahal
Paperback: 93 pages
Publisher: Indireads (June 12th 2013)
Genre: Romance
Read: eBook
Stars: ***/5
Buy On: Amazon
Summary: (Goodreads)

It’s the 1970′s in Jalalabad, an erstwhile princely state in Pakistan. Chandni is a self-proclaimed cynic and prefers to be called C. An orphan brought up by her domineering grandmother, a.k.a. The Broad, C is rebellious, quick-witted and stunningly beautiful.

When Taimur, a.k.a. Alpha Male, enters the closed universe of the haveli, he is smitten, but he’ll never admit it.

The stakes get higher when the father, who had so cruelly abandoned her at birth, returns and C’s dream of reuniting with him becomes a reality. But now she has to choose between her father and his hand-picked groom on the one side, and Alpha Male and The Broad on the other.

My Review:

Thanks Indireads for offering me this book to read and review :)

Cover: Simple pleasing illustration!

Paper and font: BIG FONT 😀

Readability, language: Easy on the eyes and the mind.

Why did I choose this book: Something about the cover and 1970’s Pakistan caught my fancy.

C or Chandni is a 20 year old growing up 1970’s Jalalabad, Pakistan. She is a product of the times and upper class society – rebellious, sarcastic, and cynical, with a sense of humour. An orphan she was brought by her strict matriarchal grandmother who isn’t ease to please. She rebels against a betrothal arranged by her grandmother only to find that she is attracted to the guy.
While she’s figuring all of this out, the father who had abandoned her as a child turns up to reclaim her and her affections but not alone. He brings along with him another suitor for her hand. Who will C choose – her grandmother or her father?

When I think about joint families, extended families, old school families or matriarchal families I think of old houses, sprawling old buildings and havelis that were as much a part of the families as the people who lived in them. From that point of view the title makes sense. The cover is a simple pleasing illustration but I couldn’t make out the haveli in it. As for the blurb, it was definitely captivating and interesting, it was what got me to read the book.

As I read Haveli I was reminded of a lot classic romances but being set in 1970’s Pakistan makes the plot feel new. It has the classic conflict of beautiful girl and dashing boy who start off on the wrong foot. The boy is so mature that he can see through the girls immaturity and goes about wooing her is a weird tangential way while the girl is smitten but doesn’t see it and fights it to the end. In the midst of all this throw in a long lost father, a matriarchal grandmother, a conniving suiter and an extended family and you’ve got multiple plots playing out.
Chandni or C as she prefers to be called, is in the middle of all the drama as protagonist and we see it all unfold through her eyes and mind.

Set in 1970’s towns of Jalabad and Cholistan in Pakistan, Mahal does a good job of describing the life of upper-class highly-educated society. From the clothes to language, I felt transported to that time. I was so reminded of old time serials, set in that time, that I had watched as a child.

Haveli has a fair number of well drawn out characters – Chandni or C, Bi Amma or the Broad, Baba and Bua, Taimur or Alpha Male, Chandni’s father Shen Jahan and more. Though there are a lot of characters all of them seem to have a motive to being in the story, however not all characters complete their individual stories. I was left wondering about what happened to a few characters like Faisal,Shen Jahan and his wife at the end of the book.

C typical to her nature gives most of the characters interesting names from classic literature and switches around the names – from Heathcliff to Mr. Darcy – on based on her mood. The throwing in of character names was fun in the beginning but towards the end it was a bit of a drag.

On the whole Haveli isn’t all that bad but towards the end it feels rushed and incomplete. The build-up to climax and the final union of the lovers left me with questions. Characters hanging in story loops with no conclusion in sight. I would have liked to hear about what happened to Shen Jahan and Faisal now that their plans are thwarted.

That said I did enjoy the romance between Chandni and Taimur. Taimur is so the suave gentleman who can set a woman’s nerves tingling. And Chandni is that silly nitwit who has a great wit but loses her head in tight spots. They make for a good couple and story.

The story being told by Chandni lends an insight into the life and mind of a 20 year old affluent girl in 1970’s Pakistan. The language is a good mix of the Hinglish we speak here in the subcontinent and the English we try hard to speak, it made me laugh sometimes as I could almost here the words and accent in my head.

Mahal keeps a good pace for two-thirds of the book, then suddenly it just jumps forward and closes, almost as if Mahal was suddenly reminded she was writing a novella and was running out of words.

Overall a good book. I enjoyed the peek into the 1970’s and Pakistan but I do wish Mahal had closed all loops and told the whole Shah Jahan story. If you are someone who likes old world stories, you’ll enjoy reading Haveli. It’s worth your time!

About the Author:
Zeenat Mahal has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has an MPhil in English literature from Government College Lahore and is currently doing an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University, London. She is currently working on her next novel. You can connect with Zeenat on her Facebook page.

Buy On: Amazon

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