After her third miscarriage and the collapse of her marriage, Jaya decides to travel to India to visit her dying maternal grandfather. She feels no connection to her ancestral homeland and knows nothing of her extended family. Even her immediate family is not close. Her mother showed little affection toward Jaya and never spoke of the country of her birth, except to say she was told to go to America and never to return. She begs Jaya not to make the trip.
Jaya's journey sets up a story of exploration in Sejal Badani's 2018 novel "The Storyteller's Secret." The book alternates between Jaya's story and that of her grandmother Amisha, who came of age during the British occupation of India.
Badani tells Jaya's story in the first person and present tense, which gives the reader a feeling of immediacy as if the scenes are taking place right now. Jaya hears Amisha's story from Ravi - a servant, confidante, and friend of the grandmother. Ravi was my favourite character in this novel because he showed remarkable kindness, intelligence, and humor, despite being born into the outcast "untouchable" caste.
Jaya and Amisha are at similar points in their lives, but fate gave them different paths. The troubles of her young adulthood shattered Jaya's life of privilege in America. Amisha was forced into a life of servitude by an arranged marriage and a patriarchal society that treated women as second-class citizens. She hid from the world her love of writing and her love for another man and she experienced very few moments of true happiness. Marrying into a wealthy family did provide some privilege, which she used to help Ravi.
After learning her grandmother's story, Jaya reassesses her own life. Amisha's struggles, denied dreams, and lost love put into perspective Jaya's problems. Amisha's story connects Jaya to her family and homeland that she previously lacked. She gains an understanding of her mother and a renewed focus on her own life.
The novel focuses on conflict and resolution. Conflict exists between the occupying British and the Indians; between women and a patriarchal society; between the Indians and the untouchables; and between Jaya and her husband. Some of these conflicts resolve, and some end in tragedy. But the story also focuses on empathy. When she learns her family history, Jaya significantly alters her feelings about her mother and her own life.
Badani's novel is a heartfelt story that gives the reader a peek into another culture and provides a hopeful message passed from one generation to another.