ARC Review: The Marriage Clock by Zara Raheem

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To Leila Abid’s traditional Indian parents, finding a husband in their South Asian-Muslim American community is as easy as match, meet, marry. But for Leila, a marriage of arrangement clashes with her lifelong dreams of a Bollywood romance which has her convinced that real love happens before marriage, not the other way around.
Finding the right husband was always part of her life-plan, but after 26 years of singledom, even Leila is starting to get nervous. And to make matters worse, her parents are panicking, the neighbors are talking, and she’s wondering, are her expectations just too high? So Leila decides it’s time to stop dreaming and start dating.
She makes a deal with her parents: they’ll give her three months, until their 30th wedding anniversary, to find a husband on her own terms. But if she fails, they’ll take over and arrange her marriage for her.
With the stakes set, Leila succumbs to the impossible mission of satisfying her parents’ expectations, while also fulfilling her own western ideals of love. But after a series of speed dates, blind dates, online dates and even ambush dates, the sparks just don’t fly! And now, with the marriage clock ticking, and her 3-month deadline looming in the horizon, Leila must face the consequences of what might happen if she doesn’t find “the one…”

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I so wanted to love this book. I was actually very sure that I would adore it. I won’t say that my expectations were necessarily very high, but I just felt it in my bones and all I’m feeling is sad after finishing the book.

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Though I’ve been blogging for around 2 years now, I’m still not very observant and tend to not notice any flaws or problematic issues or cliches in the writing unless they are very explicit. I actually had to ask my other blogger friends what it meant when reviewers talked about show vs tell style of writing. So, imagine my surprise when for the first couple of chapters, there was just telling and no showing in this book at all, and even I was able to recognize that. It wasn’t bad per se but I guess it just wasn’t a great beginning but it turned better once we got into the meat of the story. The book is fairly fast paced throughout, with lots of hilarious and embarrassing dating situations which were entertaining to read about, but sometimes also fell into typical South Asian stereotypes. I obviously enjoyed all the desi elements of the book – food, culture, language, parents’ expectations regarding dating and marriage, arrange marriage system and all the nosy aunties and especially Bollywood. There are so many references to movies and songs and actors which I absolutely loved and found very organic to the story, but I don’t know how readers who aren’t familiar with the industry would feel about it. There was a particular situation that made me feel very nostalgic when the main character starts sobbing uncontrollably while watching the movie Veer Zara and the Tere Liye song starts playing – while this happens to her during a flight journey, it completely transported me to a train journey I took a long time ago when I too started sobbing while listening to the same song. The main character’s reaction when she visits India also felt very relatable and I couldn’t stop reminiscing about my own experiences. It’s these little little moments in the book that made it worth reading for me.

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I can’t say the same for the main character Leila. She maybe twenty six years old but is very confused and judgmental, and I was both frustrated with her and felt sympathetic towards her plight. I really felt for her desperation about wanting to get married while also wanting to choose the guy and pleasing her parents, and also answering every single nosy question all the time. I could totally understand the pressure she was under because however dramatic it might seem, it is a reality for many South Asian women. However, she had too many cinematic expectations about romance and marriage and that felt pretty childish. And while I do agree that most of her dates were terrible, they were also quite caricaturish. And she kept questioning her self worth because of a guy and I absolutely hated it, because I guess I just wanted something more from a high school teacher from LA. She was very indecisive throughout, mostly making decisions based on what her friends suggested or her mother manipulated her into. I just wanted her to introspect what she wanted for herself and stand up to her parents. And when it finally happened, I found it to be too little too late and it totally frustrated me because she didn’t even come to that conclusion on her own.

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I’m actually not sure how to conclude my review. This book has quite a few rave reviews, so maybe I’m being overly harsh in my judgement. The writing was funny for the most part and very relatable to me as an ownvoices Indian reader (not Muslim though). It’s also a very fast read and I got through it in just a few hours. I think I wanted more from the main character and was disappointed in that regard. I won’t say that I don’t recommend it, because it might just be to someone else’s taste and I wouldn’t want to dissuade any readers.

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PS: Thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for providing me with the advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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