Book Review: Love, Chai, and Other Four Letter Words by Annika Sharma
Would you risk everything for your soulmate?
More importantly, would you risk it your success, your worldview, your relationships, for someone you think is your soulmate?
Kiran Mathur didn’t think she’d have to deal with this question at all. After all, she had crawled up the ladder of success — moving from a small village in India to New York City, obtaining a coveted biomedical engineering job, and financially providing for her parents in India. She had faced unsupportive naysayers from her village and constant microaggressions in New York. And she worked way too hard to let something unravel that.
When Kiran and her American-Indian friends, Sonam and Akash, and British-Indian friend, Payal, meet up for chai, they realize how quickly time passes. They’re all approaching the “dreaded” thirties (gasp!) and they’ve all got stuff to cross off their list. For Kiran, a self-proclaimed “Indian-Indian,” whose sense of self is enmeshed with being the “good” daughter, falling in love is on the list. But not in the way she imagines.
Fresh out of med school from Nashville, Tennessee, Nash is excited to start as a psychologist in New York City. Until he realizes he’s misplaced his apartment keys…on his first day. Luckily for him, Kiran’s his neighbor, and she offers him a cup of chai while they wait for the landlord to come back. Kiran has followed the rules her entire life, but in Love, Chai, and Other Four Letter Words, Nash unintentionally throws a wrench in her plans.
This is not your average rom-com
As Kiran and Nash’s meet-cute results in a “will they/won’t they” dynamic, the story reveals the complexities of both people. Kiran struggles with obligations to her parents and feeling like an outsider in a country she’s lived in for 10 years. Nash struggles with seeing kids going through the same trauma he had during childhood and realizing his worldview is a lot narrower than he thought.
At different points, the two have open conversations about their realities. Kiran explains the small, daily hurdles she deals with being an Indian immigrant in America. Nash reveals that his job is a lot more meaningful than it seems. These conversations are great reminders that we truly don’t know the burden people around us carry.
Kiran and Nash were both well-layered characters with distinct voices, their conversations natural and realistic. The story is told through a dual first-person POV, seeing the world and their relationship from their alternative perspectives.
On a lighter note, everything about Nash and Kiran’s relationship was so loveable — from their adorable meet-cute in their building to all the little unofficial dates, you find yourself smiling and rooting for them.
Nuanced representation of South Asian characters
What we loved most about the book ended up being the representation of Kiran’s background and the care taken in explaining the nuances of her situation and choices. It was never a stereotypical case of an “Indian Indian” being forced into an arranged marriage. Instead, it was explored as a complex family issue with changing dynamics, leading to Kiran feeling like she had to be the dutiful daughter who never disappointed her parents.
We also get to see her interesting cast of friends! Sonam, Payal, and Akash all bonded with Kiran through their shared Indian identity, but they’re all individual characters in their own right. They’ve formed a tight-knit friendship since college, leaning on each other during difficult times and catching up over a hot cup of chai and gossip. We get glimpses of their lives through their small stories — Sonam facing racist co-workers in her hospital, Payal revealing she doesn’t really want to take over her parent’s company, and Akash thinking about leaving his serial dating habits in the past. We’re looking forward to hearing more about their stories in the rest of the series.
The portrayals of family obligations and nasty isolation
The crux of the story wasn’t Kiran and Nash’s relationship, but Kiran’s evolving relationships with her family. The “family drama,” as it is often referred to, was easily anticipated. But we were still eager and anxious to how Annika Sharma would portray and discuss the issues. Kiran’s parents and all the internal conflicts of the Mathur family portrayed a realistic experience for many people in Kiran’s situation. The conversations were heartbreaking at times, but the portrayal did not disappoint.
Many readers can easily relate to Kiran, especially if they come from a similar Indian identity as she does. But more than that, her story of expectations and following her heart is cross-cultural.
Sometimes we face strenuous restrictions, placed by us or for us. What happens when someone comes along and breaks these down?
The end of the book was a bit dramatic and almost typically Bollywood, but in a way, also fit the whirlwind story of Kiran’s search for love and her own happiness. As the crux of the story, this was very compelling and you feel sympathetic of Kiran and Nash. Even if you can’t relate to their experiences, they’re told with such depth and nuance that you empathize with them. The interactions were well-written and felt genuine, creating a fitting ending to a very enjoyable story.
Overall, this book was really our cup of chai! If you are looking for strong characters and a good representation of South Asian culture, Love, Chai, and Other Four Letter Words is out on September 21st!
About Annika Sharma, the author
Born in Delhi and raised in central Pennsylvania, Annika Sharma followed her Penn State-loving heart to college in Happy Valley. There, she graduated with two Bachelor's degrees in Biobehavioral Health and Neuro-Psychology. She also holds two Master’s degrees from Penn State and George Washington University, respectively, in Early Childhood Special Education and Public Health.
She is a co-founder and co-host of The Woke Desi podcast, one of the largest independently run South Asian podcasts in the world. She currently lives in New York City and works as a health communications manager by day, while juggling her writing and podcasting careers by night. She is a lover of endless conversations, college football, social justice, traveling, books, all things related to England, dancing, superhero movies, and coffee.
Thank you to NetGalley and the author for an ARC (advanced reader copy) in exchange for an honest review. This exchange does not impact the review quality in any way.
We would tag the stories with content warnings for the following categories: substance abuse, verbal abuse, microaggressions, and absent/ailing parents.
Shreya Sridharan is a university student, writer and content creator for Pardesi. She is South Indian and grew up in India, moving to Germany as a teenager. Currently based in the UK, she is studying economics at the University of Warwick and enjoys learning about different cultures and traditions. As a proud South Indian, she is passionate about honest and accurate representation of South Asians and helping build a community for Desi women, especially those in the diaspora or who have international backgrounds, to explore the intersections of different parts of their identity. She enjoys watching Indian films, listening to all kinds of music, writing and traveling and is excited to see better representation of South Asians in international media.
Anu Kumar is a research technician and lab manager based in Paris, France, and currently the Head Editor for Pardesi. Born and raised in the United States to South Indian immigrants, she is passionate about exploring multicultural identities in the South Asian diaspora and other cultures. An avid writer and reader, she enjoys writing about feminism, identity, trauma, and science through an honest and nuanced lens. You can follow her work on Medium.