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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but sometimes the writer intrudes upon the story
I enjoyed this story about a marriage bureau in India, although what the bureau does doesn't seem very different from what I understand happens there anyway, with it being quite normal for families to advertise in the newspaper columns for matches for their sons or daughters. It is the characters in the story who make it, as in all good stories.

My only...
Published on 22 Jan. 2009 by Lark Spring

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very light charming read
This book is very charming. Set in modern day India, the Muslim Mr Ali starts up a marriage bureau from home, matching appropriate couples for arranged marriages. Farahad Zama brings in lots of issues from modern day India, with a very light touch: people who cannot afford basic health care; problems with pensions; the ill-treatment of wives and widows - all these serious...
Published on 2 Nov. 2008 by emma who reads a lot


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very light charming read, 2 Nov. 2008
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emma who reads a lot (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
This book is very charming. Set in modern day India, the Muslim Mr Ali starts up a marriage bureau from home, matching appropriate couples for arranged marriages. Farahad Zama brings in lots of issues from modern day India, with a very light touch: people who cannot afford basic health care; problems with pensions; the ill-treatment of wives and widows - all these serious issues are touched on, without the novel being at all heavy. Zama also explains a lot about marriage tradition, including lots of interesting details about the jewellry the wife must have, the flowers and fruits, the ceremony itself.

The characters are also really charming - I LOVE Aruna in particular, Mr Ali's assistant: but Mr and Mrs Ali and their wayward son are also lovely. You look forward to picking the book up at the end of a hard day and finding out a little bit more about them.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that I felt the style was too simple, and all the characters seemed to have quite similar ways of talking. I think that probably it's because it's a first book and Farahad Zama hasn't quite developed a strong style yet(?). I couldn't help thinking all the way through that probably his next book would be much better written. So I would definitely be tempted to read another book by this author, despite that one reservation.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but sometimes the writer intrudes upon the story, 22 Jan. 2009
This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
I enjoyed this story about a marriage bureau in India, although what the bureau does doesn't seem very different from what I understand happens there anyway, with it being quite normal for families to advertise in the newspaper columns for matches for their sons or daughters. It is the characters in the story who make it, as in all good stories.

My only reservation about the book is the way the writer sometimes intrudes by coming in with an explanation of how something happens in Indian culture. I love reading Indian novels and usually they are a bit more discreet, with the reader having to absorb the culture rather than having it handed to them together with an instruction manual. An example of what I mean -

'"What is this, madam? I've never had this drink before,' asked Aruna. [I also think the 'asked' is out of place here]

'This is rooh afza. I suppose you can call it rose syrup. It is an old cooling rinkused by Muslims. Most young people don't know about it now - they all drink Coke or Pepsi," said Mrs Ali.'

The writing is also sometimes a little stilted, with rather annoying repetitions of names, as in the final paragraph of the novel: 'Mrs Ali looked at him in disbelief for a second. Then tears slowly rolled down Mrs Ali's cheeks . . .' I think 'her' would definitely have flowed better here, but perhaps it is the quirk of an Indian writer.

But the main romantic story of Aruna and Ram, which is threaded through the novel with the story of Mr and Mrs Ali's worries about their son's involvement with a protest group, is interesting and well done, although I felt that Ram's wealthy father was rather too quickly convinced by Mr Ali of the rightness of Ram's choice of Aruna, a poor girl, as his wife.

This isn't a novel I would keep to read again, but it is one I would recommend to others as a single read that is pleasant and interesting and is light enough to take their minds off the minor concerns of their day.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising idea but it needed more editing, 20 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
The premise of this novel is an interesting one: an older man (Mr Ali), tiring of retirement, decides to set up a marriage bureau, arranging marriages for members of the local community. This provides the author with a vehicle to shine a light on the many religions, which on the whole co-exist harmoniously in India, and also their customs and traditions relating to marriage.

Unfortunately although the premise was interesting, the actual writing did let the novel down. It's important to point out that this is the author's first novel and so I feel it's not altogether his fault. This is surely something which a good agent and/or editor should have helped correct before it went to print.

The story took quite a while to gain any sort of momentum, not helped by the author simply introducing too many clients. As a reader I kept trying to remember the details of each person thinking that they would be significant in the story only for them to disappear for much of the novel.

Additionally, I got tired of the two main characters simply being referred to as Mr and Mrs Ali and the awkward dialogue did little to bring them alive. I wasn't at all convinced by their relationship or the 'tiffs' of a couple who supposedly have spent most of their lives together. Their son and his principled struggle in the face of India's growing globalisation was an interesting subplot but it was all too little, too late by then. I kept going hoping that the novel would redeem itself but the final happy-ever-after chapter was predictable and clumsy.

Other reviewers have compared this novel with the books of Alexander McCall Smith, and I have to admit I had hoped for something similar. Clearly, similarities can be drawn between this novel and the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: a complete novice sets up an unusual business in a faraway place and helps solves issues big and small for the local community. However, the thread of gentle humour which runs throughout McCall Smith's novels highlighting intriguing aspects of the national psyche and which leaves readers with a wonderful, life-affirming feeling was sadly lacking here. It meant that I finished the novel not caring in the least what happened to the characters. What a shame!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Another world, 23 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this novel. It was on my to read list as I had heard that Farahad Zama was a new author to watch with this being his debut novel. For some reason I expected it to be more literary than the gentle read it turned out to be. I do not use the word `gentle' in a derogatory manner but that is how the story comes across. A modern day social commentary about family relationships in India told through the everyday occurrences at Mr Ali's `Marriage Bureau For Rich People' At times it is very funny and at others tender and touching.
Mr Ali is retired but in search of something to keep him occupied hence the opening of a bureau for setting up arranged marriages. The matchmaking works and his days are soon full, offering advice to people seeking their life partners. Besides the various tales of his clients we also learn about the life of Mr and Mrs Ali's son who causes them great distress as he is involved in social protests and gets himself arrested. The other protagonist is Aruna, Mr Ali's assistant, a young girl whose circumstances mean she is unable to afford to marry!
Ok the story is nothing stunning and fairly predictable but I was drawn in by the interesting details about not only the various characters but about Indian life in general and how things are changing there. It was also fascinating for me to learn about both Muslim and Hindu marriages and how they are arranged with love marriages discouraged.
An opportunity to learn about a different culture and way of life, which is something I enjoy in a novel, being transported to another world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, 10 May 2009
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Damaskcat (UK) - See all my reviews
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Mr Ali is getting under his wife's feet now he is retired and he decides to set up a marriage bureau for rich people to help with arranged marriages. Soon he is so busy he needs an assistant whom Mrs Ali finds for him. Aruna is a charming girl who needs to earn more money than she can at the local department store because her father's pension has been reduced. Mr Ali offers her commission for each new member as well as a salary.

Everyday life in India makes a fascinating background to the story and we get a totally different picture of arranged marriages from the one put about by Western media. All the clients have a different story to tell and the reader gets a glimpse of the problems of living with in laws and the advantages of living in a society where everyone looks out for everyone else. Religion seems not to cause problems and Mr and Mrs Ali - Moslems - happily attend a Hindu wedding ceremony and employ a Hindu.

There are interesting glimpses into the caste system and the finery and ceremony associated with weddings are lovingly described. I loved the style of this book which is reminiscent of Alexander McCall Smith's No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. The characters are charming and the relationships well portrayed. Mr Ali gets irritable when his wife contradicts him but calms down when he is sent away to get cool drinks for his guests.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good idea with some sparks but generally poorly written, 23 Nov. 2008
This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
This book starts out well enough with its premise of setting up a marriage bureau in a Southern Indian town, and has a charming small-town feel to it. However, the plot meanders for a while before the story of Aruna, the bureau's assistant takes hold and commands attention. The incessant form filling at the bureau becomes repetitive and dull, and the mundane (often clunky) dialogue of Mr and Mrs Ali detract from what could be an interesting insight into a whole community of people passing through the bureau. Unfortunately, for the most part the characters are cardboard cutouts who all sound the same. The dialogue is really quite poor and in the latter part of the book when Aruna receives a proposal of marriage from the doctor Ramanujan it begins to resemble the dialogue of a B-grade bollywood movie in translation.

The book is billed as a snapshot of India in transition, where caste and religion do not matter quite as much as they once did, and people seek a match by going outside family and village connections to a marriage bureau. However this is a simplistic view of a changing country, as now online marriage "bureaux" are all the rage, and caste issues are more complex and hidden than portrayed here. In the hands of a more proficient writer such subtleties would have come out more, but the writing is simply not able to do justice to the complex themes and dilemmas hinted at in the book. We are left at the end with the tantalising feeling that the book is not really getting to the nub of things. The book read as if it is writen for a teenage audience, with only a few gems of good writing shining through here and there. It is a shame, because the idea of portraying society through its marriage customs is an excellent one.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow and predictable, 30 Dec. 2008
I am sure the publishers felt that they had another No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency on their hands. The cover has the same garish faux naif style of illustration as the Alexander McCall Smith series and the book is about amiable people in a colourful, hot country setting up their own business without any previous experience and, after a slow start, clients come in with a range of personal problems and dilemmas. There the comparison ends - because the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series has far more in the way of plot.

At first I kept thinking: "Oh, that person is going to end up with him or her." But we just seemed to get a series of people listing their personal preferences with regards to marriage and it soon became dull. The one pairing which is central to the book was very predictable and there is some tying up of plot loose ends at the wedding reception, which struck me as terribly contrived.

The writing style is very poor: "Mr. Ali looked at the picture of their son with a young couple and a three year old boy hanging by a wire off a nail." This upset me until I realised that it was the picture that was hanging from the wire, not the three year old boy.

I have been generous in awarding the book two stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Kay, 2 Jan. 2009
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This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
I found this book full of promise but let down by unimaginative writing - lacking in wit or interesting characters -too boring to get beyond page 100................
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, 31 Oct. 2008
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Keris Nine - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
The book's title sums it up well. There's no great dramatic drive to Farahad Zama's novel, it's simply about the fortunes and misfortunes of the staff and clients of Mr Ali's Marriage Bureau, set up by the old man in his retirement to do his best to find the ideal matches for his clients. Within that however there is a wealth of riches in the colourful characterisation and descriptions of tradition and customs, all delivered in lovely, clear prose.

The conflict in the novel comes from its characters attempt to preserve the spirit and meaning of tradition, particularly in the area of marriage, relationships and families, while at the same time finding a way to adapt to the necessary realities and sometimes the injustice of the modern world, the characters often "torn between two powerful forces neither of which would give way". Although he may not be the most diplomatic of people and often speak out of turn, Mr Ali's faith in his agency shows that he believes there is a way that both can be reconciled.

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People might then be a little too mild and genteel for some readers and is rather conservative and traditional in its style, but most readers should identify with the simple premise of the human stories, their hopes for happiness and success and the everyday troubles and obstacles that can sometimes prevent them from achieving that aim, despite the best of intentions and noblest of actions.
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4.0 out of 5 stars ... the debut novel by Farahad Zama set in the beautiful town of Vizag in South eastern India, 20 April 2015
This review is from: The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series (Paperback)
The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is the debut novel by Farahad Zama set in the beautiful town of Vizag in South eastern India. The author was born there in 1966 and the colourful coastal town with a contemporary marriage bureau prove a perfect backdrop for a splendid array of characters making sense of all sorts of pride and prejudice, and the ways in which true love will not quite let go. This is a witty and big-hearted debut novel, which I would not have chosen had it not been book of the month in our local library book group.

Zama does not have an obvious background for an author. He obtaned a Master's degree in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Engineering at Kharagpur, near Kolkata but then moved to Mumbai to work for an investment bank. An arranged marriage to a local girl from Vizag soon followed. Zama's career then took him to New York, USA Zurich, Switzerland and Luxembourg before finally bringing him to London, England for six months. Sixteen years later, Farahad is still in living London with his wife, the Vizag girl and their two Croydon-born boys

The story in The Marriage Bureau for Rich People focuses on Mr Ali. He has retired from the Indian civil service but, although he has a with a wealth of common sense, the freedom of retirement soon palls. It is then he decides to open a marriage bureau on the veranda of his house. Mr Ali sees his new business flourish as his indomitable wife, Mrs Ali, and his able assistant, Aruna, watch. The Bureau has a lively and touching clientele all with very specific needs. Aruna is modest and from a poor but proud family. Although many clients go away happy, problems lurk behind the scenes as Aruna nurses a secret. She longs to be a bride but knows that without family money that will not happen. Mr Ali does not realise that he rarely follows the sage advice he so freely dishes out to others. So, when love comes calling for Aruna, an impossible dilemma looms.

In The Marriage Bureau for Rich People Zana explores the grim realities of political corruption, the caste system and poverty that the average Indian is up against without losing the cozy community feeling of the novel. I really enjoyed this novel, although I did not expect to. It is not a novel that I would have chosen, but I am glad it was chosen for me. I highly recommend it and would read more by this author.
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The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series
The Marriage Bureau For Rich People: Number 1 in series by Farahad Zama (Paperback - 2 Oct. 2008)
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