Originally published 2001
Genre Young adult fiction
Awards Angus Book Award
|Similar Bali Rai books, Young adult fiction books|
un arranged marriage
The young-adult novel (Un)Arranged Marriage is the first novel by the British-Indian author Bali Rai (born 1971 in Leicester, England).
Manjit lives in Leicester, England with his two brothers Harry (Bilhar) and Ranjit, his father and his mother. His relationship to his parents is disturbed because Manjit does not want to live the life his parents planned for him. His best friend Adrian, called Ady, helps Manjit to forget about the family issues and his situation, but sometimes he gets them both into trouble.
When Manny's family sets up Harry's wedding, Ekbal, Manny's cousin, visits the family. As a result, Manny gets frustrated because Ekbal, who has more liberal parents, doesn't have to marry at the age of 17 like himself. During summer break Manny often breaks out of home to go hang out with Ady. This is when Manny meets a nice girl, called Lisa, for the first time. He really wants to ask her out but he fears Lisa's and his family's reaction. Nevertheless, they start to date and talk about their families after a while. At the same time, Ady is dating Sarah, Lisa’s cousin. But Manny often thinks about his (un-)arranged marriage.
The second part mainly deals with the arranged marriage of Manjit. Because Manny had committed little crimes and often skived off school especially his father becomes very angry. He is convinced that Manjit's bad behaviour is going to ruin the family's name. He wants Manjit to be a real Punjabi-man. From his point of view hard work and discipline are the best way to raise a child. The decisions are made by him. So he decides that Manny must marry a girl from India although Manjit does not know her. When his parents see his reaction his mother tries an emotional blackmail by crying and telling him that she will die if he does not get married.
Moreover, Manjit has got problems in school: His bad marks alarm his teacher Mr. Sandhu, who talks to him and asks him about possible reasons. Although Manjit does not tell him the reason for his behaviour, Mr Sandhu presumes conflicts in his family due to his relationship with Lisa. Manjit also talks with Lisa about his arranged marriage and she tells him that he has to make his own decisions. But Manjit seems to be convinced that he has to respect his parents' decision. All he wants is a normal life like the other teenagers. He realizes that he is different from the rest of his family and his family is aware of this fact. Therefore, they try to change him to become a real Punjabi man.
Manny and his family arrive in India, where he is really shocked when he sees all the poverty in this country, which he had always believed to be impossible in India because his father told him that India is really nice and full of good people. After the arrival at the airport, they take a taxi to get to the village of his family. After a long trip to the village, Manny finally gets to know his father's big family. Manny gets to know his cousin Inderjit better, who tells him that their family is rich for Indian standards but to Manny they are not as rich as they would if they lived in England. His cousin also tells him about the bad parts of the village and what has happened down those unsuitable streets.
After some time, Manny gets really homesick and badly wants to go back to England. But they can‘t leave as planned because their passports appear to be stolen. As a consequence Manny's parents go to sort out the problem. When Manny gets back from his trip he finds out that his family travelled back to England and left him in India. He feels miserable and angry and thinks everybody betrayed him. A letter from Jas arrives, in which she says she feels sorry for him and adds some notes by Ady and Lisa.
At last Manny gets to know his youngest uncle Jag. He is the “black sheep” of the family and due to his modern and western lifestyle neglected by the other family members. He agrees with Manny's decision not to marry an unknown girl. Due to his different attitude towards arranged marriages he decides to help Manny to flee the country which he can accomplish due to his wealth. The first step is to get the passport. Inderjit tells Manny where Jag can get them. After packing all his stuff, Manny leaves with Jag in a car. None of the rest of the family notices that Manny escapes because Jag put weed in their food. Manny and Jag stay at a hotel for some days because the flight is delayed.
In the end of part three, Jag gives a last advice to Manny: He should live his own life by making his own decisions. In his opinion, it‘s not selfish to live one's own life without upholding family traditions.
When Manny's arrives back home, he realizes that something has changed because his father beats him and does not change his opinion, that Manny has to marry the girl his father chose. But this just makes him fight stronger for his rights and he starts to work in a local supermarket with his best friend Ady to save money to escape his wedding.
At the end of the chapter, he meets Lisa after a long time. She doesn’t want to be with Manny anymore and she wants him to leave but Manny resists and tells her his plan to have a revenge on his family. He is angry about his family's point of view and he wants them to feel how life is without their son. His plan is to act like he changed his mind to make his family believe that he agrees with the wedding. He cannot believe how nice his parents start to behave. He never even expected that his father could be so kind to him and would even give him more money just because he “wants” the wedding now. He talks about it with Ady and prepares the plan with him three days before the wedding takes place.
On the final day, his father is again extremely nice to him and calm and friendly. So for now everything is planned and the wedding party is about to begin, so they go to the church hall where the party continues. At the party, Manny gets very angry at Harry's friends who make a racist joke but none of his family take him seriously and that is when Manny starts to break up the wedding. In addition it is not just the wedding day but also his 17th birthday. So he escapes from the wedding party with his best friend's help.
In the end, Manny is a free man. He can do whatever he wants and he lives his own life with his own rules but there is one thing he lost: his own family.
Manny is the protagonist of the novel and the first person narrator. He is of Indian origin but lives with his family in England. Since he wants to be rather British than Indian, he is the black sheep of the family. Manny and his best friend Ady go to school in Leicester, where he also got to meet his later girlfriend Lisa. The key issue of the novel is that his father wants an arranged marriage for Manny.
Bilhar and Ranjit are Manny’s older brothers. Both speak mainly Punjabi and work in a factory. Ranjit already got married to a Punjabi girl called Jas. Manny has to share a room with Bilhar which is why they hate each other. Both have Punjabi friends, so they don't speak English very well.
The mother is not described in detail. In addition, Manny does not like her too much. His father is a violent, alcoholic and racist person and a strict Punjabi as well. He really believes that the Jat Punjabi religion is the only right way to live. He also does not care about Manny’s education or anything except the fact that Manny should get married to an Indian girl.
Ady is a young Black boy who lives with his family in Leicester. He is Manny’s best friend for ages and they go to High School together. He likes to play soccer and during his spare time he does shop lifting with Manny. Ady does not have such strict parents as Manny does.
Lisa is Manny’s later girlfriend and goes to the same High School as Manny does. She lives together with her parents and understands Manny's problems at home and offers him to stay at her house.
Sarah is Ady’s later girlfriend and Lisa’s best friend.
Uncle Jag lives in Australia and has got a girlfriend and a daughter. He came to India to visit his family. Jag prefers the western culture over the Indian culture which is why he can understand Manny's point of view. His character gets really important as soon as Manny wants to escape from India to get back to England.
Bali Rai started to write this novel when he was 28 and by reading (un)arranged marriage, it can be figured out that there are some parallels between Manny's story of life and the one of the author himself. Both grew up multicultural and multiracial as Punjabis in England. They both worked in a tabledancebar. The differences between the author and the character Manny are e. g. that Bali Rai was not told to get married as a teenager and the fact that he was born in Leicester.
Bali Rai himself says : This novel is partly autobiographical with the rest based on the true life experiences of friends and family.
Bali Rai’s (un)arranged marriage is commonly seen by critics as worth reading because of the issue the novel deals with. What the author can be criticized for is the language he uses. Some critics consider the novel being classified as young adult novel and its easy, colloquial writing style makes it accessible. But on the other hand one might argue that the use of different accents throughout the novel gets annoying, especially when they are used for no apparent reasons and critics think that the writing is not the memorable about the novel. The widely held opinion about the story itself is that it deals with an important affair. The book helps to show the topicality of arranged marriages, which are even in the 21st century an often occurring phenomenon and spread around the whole world.
"Arranged marriages are still happening every day. We tend to think of them as either something of the past, or something that only happens far away. In this book, Rai reminds us that arranged marriages are happening in neighbourhoods like ours."
In some reviews, it is also mentioned that Rai gives both points of view about arranged marriages, acceptance as well as refusal. Although the main character does not want an arranged marriage for him; there are other characters who are satisfied with this way of life. Secondly it is mentioned that the book shows the conflict about living in two different worlds (two different cultures) at the same time, really well.
"Rai shows the reader why it is so hard to be accepted by the family and in school or in other situations and how it feels – in order to manage that - to live two different lives at the same time. The book provides an insight into Indian traditions and the potential for conflicts which come up because of a lack of communication and tolerance within the family."
Further some reviewers think that the novel itself is predictable and many passages are not memorable, because they are written too technically to remember. Concluding, the reviewers come to the opinion that (un)arranged marriage is a young adult novel without high literary claim that deals with an important issue.