Love, Chai, and Other Four Letter Words is a moving, emotional romance about family, friendship, and some of the very real challenges that can occur in interracial relationships. Kiran is an Indian immigrant who moved to New York to create more financial stability for herself and her parents back in India. Her sister was kicked out of the family for marrying someone of a different caste, and Kiran’s parents would never approve of her dating a white guy. Nash is a white guy and a psychologist from a small town, who’s dealing with the trauma of his mom’s drug addiction and death.
First: as an immigrant from the Philippines, I absolutely, positively LOVE that this romance stars an Asian immigrant. Most of the contemporary romances I seem to find that feature Asian-American main characters seem to feature ones that were born and raised in North America; most of their inter-family conflict deals with navigating their relationship with more traditional immigrant parents. The struggles of an Asian immigrant in North America is totally different, and by making Kiran’s family super traditional and from a small village, Annika Sharma has brought a very specific blend of immigrant millennial experiences to the spotlight. With the caveat that I’m not Indian, nor is my background as rural or traditional as Kiran’s, I loved how very real and nuanced her family conflicts were. I loved the interplay between the conflict over traditional vs modern approaches to love, and the genuine, deep-seated love Kiran, her sister, and their parents actually do feel for each other, even when they may not admit it.
Nash is the kind of wounded hero you just want to hug. I love how his childhood experiences led to his career choices, and passion for helping children and teens whose parents are also dealing with addiction. I love how he comes to recognize his privileges both as a white man and as an American, and how he continues to fight for Kiran even when he doesn’t fully understand the context behind her situation. Their chemistry at times felt more friendly than romantic to me, but I was very much behind this pairing, and rooting for their happily ever after.
I also really liked the resolution to the conflict. It was realistic, and it took into account all the messiness of life that Kiran and Nash will still have to contend with long after the big romantic gesture. All of that muted the celebratory finale a bit, but in a good way, because it also made Kiran and Nash’s future happiness feel believable.
Kiran’s friends, the eponymous Chai Masala Club, are all fascinating. Sharma does a good job of introducing them to us in a way that just whets my appetite to find out how their journeys to romance will eventually turn out.
A minor quibble I had was a couple of moments that just felt a tad Eurocentric in tone. One was when Kiran’s uncle made a joke about India being smelly, and another was when Kiran observes people in Delhi looking at a white person “in awe at his pale skin.” The second passage in particular chafed at me. Curiosity, I can get behind, but as much as I recognize colourism exists in Asian societies, awe seems a bit much, particularly for a big city like Delhi. I recognize I’m nitpicking over two fairly throwaway passages in the novel, but I was so into the entire thing throughout that these moments took me out of it for a bit.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Thank you to Raincoast Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.