Cultures clash in this story of love, trust, pain, and loss. Sheryl Parbhoo writes a realistic portrayal of an American girl and an Indian boy falling in love and dealing with adultery, cultural expectations, and alcoholism in her novel The Unexpected Daughter.
It's my belief that it takes a powerful writer to introduce a character that's easy to hate and then slowly change the mind of the reader throughout the story. Parbhoo does just that in this book as the characters introduced are fundamentally flawed and then given the chance to change for the better. Jenny, Roshan, and Esha are the three main character and the chapters shift between their points of view as the story unfolds.
Jenny is a young woman who came from a very poor family, with an alcoholic father and a drug addicted mother. She struggles to trust anyone and believes that she is the only one she can depend on. Her goal of becoming a dentist solidifies her identity as a woman who can take care of herself. Yet, her feelings for Roshan are constant.
Roshan is an Indian man who dreamed of being an artist. Yet, with a dead father who was an abusive alcoholic, his dreams were forced to change, in order to fit in with what his culture expected of him. Therefore, he also became a dentist and had an arranged marriage, even though he was in love with Jenny. Roshan's character was the one that I did not like for most of the book. And by 'most of the book' I mean up until the last couple pages. It wasn't his rebellious attitude that I didn't like, but his treatment of Jenny, the wishy-washy treatment of his mother, the fact that he knew he had a problem with alcohol but ignored it (even kept it a secret), and how he blamed everything on his culture.
Though Parbhoo does an excellent job in relaying what Indian men are expected to do with their lives, it didn't make Roshan any easier to like. The further I got in the book, the more I hated him. I especially disliked how he cheated on his first wife. I understand that he wasn't happy, but then why did he marry her? It was an arranged marriage, but if it was going to end up badly anyway, then why go through it? I know hindsight is 20/20 and it's easy for me to judge a book character, but I just couldn't get over it. It made it really hard for me to like Roshan as he always created problems for himself but barely worked toward any solutions. However, in the last chapter, it seemed that the rehab facility Roshan attended really did help him. Yet, I felt more connected with Jenny, as she simply agreed to move forward and see what happened instead of condemning Roshan to his past mistakes.
Esha is Roshan's mother and as mothers play a large role in Indian cultures, she played a big role in Roshan's life. At first, I didn't like her, but I also didn't understand her. Throughout the book, Esha's true self is revealed and she becomes more than just a judgemental woman who forces her opinions onto others. The influence of the culture is really explored through Esha and it's through her character that there is also a lot of growth in the book. She comes to understand that Jenny is a good person who loves her son, has her own demons, and is scared of being a single mom. Through the story, I found Esha and Jenny's relationship to be the most intriguing, as Jenny becomes Esha's unexpected daughter and Jenny learns how to be a mother from her unexpected daughter.
The storyline is quite complicated, but it basically follows Jenny and Roshan's relationship from college graduation until after the birth of their child. Along the way, a lot of issues and topics are covered including arranged marriage, cultural differences and influence, the importance of family, religion, motherhood, fatherhood, alcoholism, drug addiction, and much much more. Parbhoo packs a lot of detail into her story which really brings it to life. I think readers who enjoy learning about other cultures and giving second chances will like this book, even if the characters are a little harder to connect with.
Rating: 3/5 Cups