The 1990s were a time of Hindu-Muslim conflict in Mumbai and form the background for this novel of four women who open a restaurant together in the city during these unsettling times. The men, who (usually) disappoint them and (all too often) do far worse, add to what is both an inspirational story and a terrific read.

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Anusya works as a maid for an aging film actress and has great hopes for her daughter, Sarangi, but gets no help from her alcoholic husband. Noonan, her friend and neighbor, has a child with developmental problems whose special school is expensive. Her husband is a member of the right-wing Hindu United Party and has landed in prison after a fight. Farzana is a Muslim and a girlhood friend of Noonan married to a womanizer who beats her. When fiercely independent and industrious Shakuntala, whose husband has abandoned her, brings the other women together to start the food stand they name STREE—A Women’s Initiative, the newly minted entrepreneurs must deal with their business, personal lives, and raging religious intolerance. Nair, who lives in Mumbai, writes pedestrian prose rife with forgettable metaphors, but the characters and story hold their own in what could have become soap opera, but doesn’t.

Available in store & online.

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