Book 15 of 52: The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal

What a wonderful, WONDERFUL book. If you’ve ever mocked romance novels or the people who read them, give The Forbidden Daughter
by Shobhan Bantwal a whirl. It’ll knock the socks off your stereotype.

I interviewed Bantwal, who writes Indian-American romance novels, for an upcoming article, so of course I had to read one of her books. It’s an example of a romance novel that is not heavy on the sex but focuses on a love story and, as it must have to be categorized a romance novel, ends happily.

It deals with some heavy issues, too, specifically selective abortion. When Isha and Nikhil Tilak find out that they are going to have a girl, the doctor recommends an abortion. Nikhil’s parents insist on it.

Seem far fetched? Hardly. In 2006, the Lancet reported that nearly 10 million fetuses could have been aborted in India (where the book is set) over the last 20 years — COULD. Many think that those numbers are far too low.

And even though this kind of selective abortion isn’t as common in the U.S. (as far as I know), there’s still a bias for some people. Just this weekend I watched In Good Company. As soon as Dennis Quaid’s character finds out his wife is pregnant, he asks “Does it feel like a boy?” My father jokes that the first child to produce a grandchild will win a monetary prize — doubled if it’s a boy (and even more if it’s a left handed boy). So, no, the premise of this novel is not far fetched.

Things get really ugly when Nikhil is killed while trying to report that doctor to the police. His parents blame the unborn female baby for the murder, insisting that if the couple had gotten rid of her in the first place, their son would be alive. Isha flees their home and rebuilds her life from there.

Not EXACTLY the stuff of bodice ripping romances, right? That’s because the industry and the novels it produces has changed. This book becomes a romance novel, I promise you that, but The Forbidden Daughter is the perfect example of how big and encompassing the genre can be.

“Every other genre of literature exists with a romantic element and every other genre of fiction exists in romance,” Sarah Wendell of and Book 12 of 52 said today when I interviewed her about the genre. The Forbidden Daughter has elements of literary fiction, mystery and suspense, all wrapped into a work in a genre form — and in India! What a great reading escape while we’re stuck in this deep freeze. Well done.

Wendell also pointed out that Harlequin, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, became so successful so quickly during the great depression and that she thinks romance novels will see a huge spike in sales because people now more than ever want the guarantee of a happy ending. I think she’s right.

Here’s a book trailer for The Forbidden Daughter if you’re interested in learning more:

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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