This charming novel about a Bengali-American matchmaker in San Francisco who creates an imaginary fiancé in order to satisfy her marriage-minded traditional parents offers a fresh variation on the timeless theme of a young woman's quest for true love.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Lina Ray has a knack for pairing up perfect couples as a professional matchmaker in San Francisco, but her well-meaning, highly traditional Indian family wants her to get married. When her Auntie Kiki introduces Lina to the bachelor from hell at her sister's wedding in India, Lina panics and blurts out, "I'm engaged!" Because what's the harm in a little lie?
Who's sari now?
Lina scrambles to find a real fiancé because Auntie Kiki will be coming to America soon to approve the match. But date after disastrous date gets her no closer to her prince -- until an actual prince arrives on her doorstep. Lina hasn't been able to stop fantasizing about traditional but dashing Raja Prasad since she met him in India. In fact, her imaginary fiancé has begun to resemble him! Now Raja is in San Francisco and wants Lina to find a suitable bride for his brother. Though they live oceans apart, Lina longs to bridge the gap. But when her fantastic fib catches up with her, life is suddenly like a Bollywood flick gone horribly wrong. Lina may have an over-developed fantasy life, but she certainly never imagined things would turn out like this!
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In Imaginary Men, matchmaker and protagonist Lina Ray is an Indian-American woman who seems to embrace American culture more than her traditional Indian culture. In fact, our narrator's first words are: "I'm allergic to India." What are her reasons for rejecting the exotic Indian lifestyle?
In another instance, Lina speaks somewhat fondly of India saying, "Yet my soul connects to this strange, colorful, hot, smelly, magical country, even though I don't remember it." Discuss this conflict of sorts between the enchantment of her birth country, India, and "the easy life in America." How does this conflict become more complex once Raja Prasad enters the picture?
Everyone in Lina's family seems to be conspiring to marry her off, especially since she's the oldest of the three sisters. Why do you think such an emphasis is placed on marriage? Are there similarities between American and Indian attitudes toward women and marriage? How does Lina feel about arranged marriages? Her family?
As a matchmaker, Lina claims she has "an uncanny ability to see connections between potential mates, like silvery threads" (page 5). Discuss the irony of a matchmaker who cannot find a suitable match for herself.
The caste system in India separates members of its society based on class. Typically the class that you are born into is the class in which you will remain until death. So when Kali reveals to Lina that her crush, Dev, and his brother Raja are princes, Lina seems reserved. She warns her sister not to fall so quickly, stating that "Princes marry princesses, Kali. Not the daughters of doctors" (page 55). Nevertheless, Lina, the daughter of a doctor, does in fact woo Prince Raja. Should class be a deciding factor regarding matters of the heart? How might caste issues come into play if Lina and Raja eventually marry?
Even after two years there appears to be a considerable sense of loss regarding Lina's deceased fiancè, Nathu. She dreams of him, has nightmares, reminisces, even conjures up a ghost-like invisible man who resembles Nathu. Her friend Harry tells her that memory of Nathu is ruling her. What do you think? What issues are keeping Lina from finding a partner?
The imaginary man that Lina is supposedly engaged to becomes very vivid in her mind. He talks to her while she gets ready for dates and while she's on dates and even goes to bed with her. What purpose does this "imaginary man" serve for Lina? What does she eventually discover about herself?
Raja Prasad presents himself in Lina's life in America, claiming the desire to find a wife for his younger brother, Dev. Yet considering how Lina and Raja spend their time, the search seems to be a ploy. What do you make of Raja's sudden appearance? Discuss his motivations and intentions. Is Lina convinced by Raja's story? Explain.
Lina describes Raja as "traditional," which in the Indian sense almost likens him to a sexist. She sees herself as "an independent American woman" (page 111), but in spite of herself seems to be falling for Raja. Do you think Raja and Lina are a good match? Why or why not?
The story ends in India with Raja meeting Lina at a busy train station in Kolkata. Although she has deep ties to America, she admits that while in India, "I'm not sure where this journey will end." How do you foresee Raja and Lina's future? Do you think she'll end up living with Raja and his family in India? Or will Raja return to San Francisco?
Enhance Your Book Club:
Get a feel for the city of Kolkata, one of the settings in the book. Visit this website: http://www.bangalinet.com/calcutta.htm. Browse through pictures. Read up on the history of Kolkata, the city that was once known as Calcutta.
If you are the host, give everyone a recipe for samosas. Better yet, serve them at the meeting. You can find a great recipe here: http://www.outofthefryingpan.com/recipes/samosas.shtml
Think you have the matchmaker touch? Take a matchmaker survey: http://www.greatboyfriends.com/survey.php#matchmaker
Anjali Banerjee was born in Kolkata, India, and grew up in Canada and California. Her short fiction has appeared in literary journals and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, she lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Visit her website at www.anjalibanerjee.com.