Book Review for “The Direction of the Wind” by Mansi Shah.
Summary: “Sophie Shah was six when she learned her mother, Nita, had died. For twenty-two years, she shouldered the burden of that loss. But when her father passes away, Sophie discovers a cache of hidden letters revealing a shattering truth: her mother didn’t die. She left. Nita Shah had everything most women dreamed of in her hometown of Ahmedabad, India—a loving husband, a doting daughter, financial security—but in her heart, she felt like she was living a lie. Fueled by her creative ambitions, Nita moved to Paris, the artists’ capital of the world—even though it meant leaving her family behind. But once in Paris, Nita’s decision and its consequences would haunt her in ways she never expected. Now that Sophie knows the truth, she’s determined to find the mother who abandoned her. Sophie jets off to Paris, even though the impulsive trip may risk her impending arranged marriage. In the City of Light, she chases lead after lead that help her piece together a startling portrait of her mother. Though Sophie goes to Paris to find Nita, she may just also discover parts of herself she never knew.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary – Dual Timelines (1999 & 2019), France – Paris, USA – Santa Monica CA, India – Ahmedabad; Other Categories: Novel, Coming of Age, Art, Addiction, Diverse Authors, #OwnVoices.
Please don’t look at the star rating here and immediately dismiss this book, because despite the relatively low rating, there really is a whole lot to commend this book. First of all, there’s the diversity aspect, since Shah is obviously of Indian descent, and therefore we get to see a slice of the world through the eyes of someone from a different culture – the famous #OwnVoices aspect. Then there’s how someone from one culture reacts when they find themselves practically dropped into a very different culture. This is highly evident in this novel, and most of the conflicts here stem from this very aspect of how they react to being outside of their “comfort zones” (both figuratively and literally). It also shows that both choice and necessity can have an effect on how we react in different situations. So, with this, we have a very solid, interesting concept for this novel. Undoubtedly, those who are annoyed by dual timelines might also balk here, but I can assure you that both Nita’s and Sophie’s separate journeys are vital to the telling of this story, and neither one is superfluous.
Now, this means that we are talking about a very character driven novel, which has always been attractive to me. In fact, one could almost call this book a character study – or rather two separate character studies. I know that many people think that character driven books mean “nothing happens,” or that the plot is weak, but this is simply not the case with this book. Shah has carefully plotted out how Nita and Sophie move through this novel, such that there are both parallels of action as well as contrasting events. Interestingly enough, although Nita’s story takes place over several years, Sophie’s timeline is only a few weeks. Even so, Shah has given them equal narration time, which seems a bit unusual. To do this, there were places where Shah had to jump ahead in Nita’s story in order to maintain the balance. This might have made Nita’s story feel disjointed, but I believe Shah succeeded in avoiding this pitfall by sticking to more of the essential action. In this way, I believe Shah gave us two, very three-dimensional portraits of both Nita and Sophie.
With all this praise, I guess you’re wondering why I didn’t rate this book higher. Well, as much as I liked how Shah constructed this novel, and as much as I felt that Shah gave us two well-rounded, and interesting characters, we have to remember that there’s also the coming-of-age aspect to consider. Obviously, we want the characters to grow and change as the story pans out. This Shah does, but for my taste, I felt that Shah did this with more telling than showing. Yes, I know this isn’t easy to achieve, but there were several times where I felt that the internal monologues went on too long. They could either have been tempered with more external or physical elements (for example, anxiety can manifest in rapid breathing and movements; happiness can make you suddenly observe something mundane as being extraordinary, etc.). There were also passages that felt somewhat redundant regarding how each of them told us of their introspection regarding what was happening and how they were feeling. In short, this could have used a bit more editing, and some polishing of the narrative.
Of course, this wasn’t problematic enough for me to discontinue reading this novel, but it did partially distance me from the characters, which I’m sure was contrary to the author’s intent. Also, I felt that some of the ending didn’t ring as realistic as the rest of the book, and I think Shah tried too hard to tie everything up in a pretty bow – sorry, life isn’t like that. Because of this, while I will still recommend this book, I think that the most honest rating I can give this is three and a half stars out of five, which is still a good rating. Since this is Shah’s second novel, I’m sure that with her next book, she’ll continue to grow, as there is certainly a good deal of talent here, and she does know how to tell a story.
“The Direction of the Wind” by Mansi Shah is scheduled for release on February 1, 2023 from Lake Union Publishing (although my copy says January 17th). This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Blackwell‘s, Foyles, The Book Depository UK and Book Depository US (both with free worldwide delivery), Waterstones, WHSmith, Wordery UK and Wordery US, Kobo US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, Booksamillion.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a uncorrected proof copy of this novel.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#4).