“The Matchmaker” by Saman Shad is a novel that sits between genres; like its’ characters, caught between cultures, it doesn’t quite belong anywhere but creates something special out of the mixture.
Not quite a romance, not quite a relationship novel, and not quite a literary novel, this hovers between the three to provide an absorbing read. It has the light touch you’d expect from a romance, the thoughtful exploration you’d want from a relationship novel, and the consideration of different cultures that might be offered by a literary novel. I enjoyed it a great deal.
In Sydney, there’s a thriving desi community, but there are challenges. Older members of the community tend to cling tight to the traditions brought from countries like Pakistan, especially around relationships. Younger members of the community are more likely to adopt the modern mores of Australian society, but find themselves dragged back to tradition by family and community pressure when it comes to marriage.
Saima finds herself squarely in the middle of this clash. She’s had enormous success as a matchmaker and has many satisfied customers. However, now negative gossip is causing her problems. She’s too modern, too focused on love matches and compatibility rather than class and economic position. Her business is beginning to struggle.
Then a possible solution shows up unexpectedly. A wealthy couple comes to arrange a match for their son – nothing unusual there. But they want Saima to manoeuvre their son into accepting her services without telling him his parents are paying for it.
Saima has doubts about the wisdom of this strategy, but she needs the money, and the good recommendations that could follow. And Kal looks like he’ll be easy to match: handsome, successful, wealthy, and from a respected family, most would consider him a catch. So she agrees to try it.
Both Saima and Kal have frustrations with the clash between the culture of their birth, the one they’ve been raised in, and the one they now live in as adults.
The novel balances humor and serious moments very successfully. It’s the kind of humor you’ll probably recognise from your own life: slightly snarky comments from friends, the easy laughter that you share with people you know well.
I feel that I should note that I’m not from a desi background. I’m hesitant therefore to say much about the depiction of the desi community. However, I thought there was a lot of warmth and affection in it, along with some exasperation. As an outsider, I appreciated a glimpse of the traditions and motivations of this community and its members.
The novel explores the challenges of different cultural demands, and how not to lose the good while trying to move away from the less helpful. Many people will empathise with this – not everyone may experience the same cultural clash, but parental pressure and expectations that don’t match yours are pretty common. This is handled with empathy for all parties and a particular understanding of the pressure it puts on the younger generation.
Similarly, the general tone of many of the dilemmas Saima and Kal face will be familiar to many readers: the difficulty of navigating relationships, of financial challenges, and of career uncertainties. Although “The Matchmaker” might have particular resonance for those facing a similar cultural clash, readers from all communities and backgrounds are likely to see a part of themselves in it.
Romance readers will enjoy this, but so will many other readers. There’s a light touch and a romantic plot that takes centre stage, but the novel has a great deal to say beyond that. There’s a lot of depth to this, and an interestingly original slant in the insight into the desi community.
Copy courtesy of Penguin Books (2023)
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The Matchmaker by Saman Shad. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.
I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember, and I love sharing that joy.
I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, across all genres. There’s not much I won’t at least try. I’ve been an enthusiastic book reviewer for years. I particularly enjoy discovering writers new to me, and sharing good writing with others.
My career has included time spent writing and editing technical documents, but it’s fiction that really moves me. I’ve reviewed for a number of different outlets over the years, and have been a judge in literary competitions.
I’m now raising little bookworms of my own, which brings a whole new kind of joy to sharing books.
More of my reviews can be found on my review blog www.otherdreamsotherlives.home.blog .