Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes: A Novel
by Betsy Woodman
Holt Paperbacks, ISBN 978-0805093490
July 17, 2012, 336 pages.
Janet Laird, fondly known as Jana Bibi, is Scottish by heritage, but in her heart and on her passport she is Indian.
Her parents were in the civil service before Indian independence, she was born there, and except for a few unhappy years in Scotland after their death, she has lived all her life in her beloved India. She returned as the wife of a missionary, and after his death, supported herself and her son as a musician (seems to be more to that story) and a violin teacher. But her life is turned on it's head when she gets a letter informing her that she has inherited her grandfather's house in a faraway Indian hill station, Hamara Nagar, the historic Jolly Grant House. So she packs up her housekeeper Mary and one of the stars of the book, the charming and very talkative Mr. Ganguly, and off they head for a grand adventure. Happily we get to go along!
But not all is rosy. The house has been taken over by monkeys, but not to worry. All you have to do is hire the friendly local Gurkha to drive them off with the sound of his bagpipes. And then there is the matter of the dam that the government plans to build right where they stand, wiping out their village. So the locals hatch a plan to put the town on the map, make it famous and save it. Jana Bibi, reborn as the local fortune teller, is in the center of the plan to make it a tourist attraction. She is joined in the endeavor by her new friends, like Ramachandran, whose Treasure Emporium store will furnish her salon, Feroze Ali Khan of Royal Tailors who will make her costume, and Rambir, editor of the local newspaper who will publicize the new venture. And they are just a few of the wonderful characters we will meet in this delightful book, along with a cast of American, Europeans, Muslim and Hindu and Christian Indians, one very corrupt police chief and a convention of 'futurists'.
Everyone must rally together if the town is to be saved!
As I turned the last page, my opinion of this book was clear...it is utterly charming and a totally enjoyable read! Charming! I promise you will put this book down with a smile on your face.
The book touches on a few serious topics as well as the danger of the dam, such as the problems, the bloodshed, that arose from the road to Indian independence and the separation of India and Pakistan, the concerns for a child that does not want to follow their parents path in life...the disappearance of our dear parrot friend. But yes, you just know that somehow everything will turn out OK and we will have a happy ending. Perhaps everything is just a tiny bit idealized, but I guarantee you will be delightfully swept away with the exotic setting and the wonderful cast of characters in this book.
For a brief time, we get to share the fond memories the author has of her 10 years growing up in India and I must say I was happy to hear that this is the first book in a proposed series. I can not wait to see what adventures Jana Bibi, her new friends and especially that totally wonderful parrot, Mr. Ganguly, may get into.
My thanks to Henry Holt and Company for providing a copy of this book for review.