Review: The Storyteller's Secret by Sejal Badani

Thursday, August 16, 2018
Title: The Storyteller's Secret
Author: Sejal Badani
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 411
Published: expected September 2018
Source: ARC received for review
Rating: 3.5/5

From the bestselling author of Trail of Broken Wings comes an epic story of the unrelenting force of love, the power of healing, and the invincible desire to dream.
Nothing prepares Jaya, a New York journalist, for the heartbreak of her third miscarriage and the slow unraveling of her marriage in its wake. Desperate to assuage her deep anguish, she decides to go to India to uncover answers to her family’s past.

Intoxicated by the sights, smells, and sounds she experiences, Jaya becomes an eager student of the culture. But it is Ravi—her grandmother’s former servant and trusted confidant—who reveals the resilience, struggles, secret love, and tragic fall of Jaya’s pioneering grandmother during the British occupation. Through her courageous grandmother’s arrestingly romantic and heart-wrenching story, Jaya discovers the legacy bequeathed to her and a strength that, until now, she never knew was possible.

A finely-tuned dual timeline novel centered on memorable women, both modernish America and India in the 1930s - 1940s. A rather dense book and one that can move the plot rather slowly, The Storyteller's Secret is very much character-driven in both its past and the present timelines. The two seemingly-disparate plots are intricately linked to one another, and though the reveal of how that is so is easily guessed, Badani's talent for characterization compensates for any lost surprise later on. She is able to evince genuine interest in the people involved, from Jaya and her "modern" problems, to Amisha's quiet determination in the rigid culture of the past, and that makes reading this historical fiction a satisfying experience.

The characters and world of her novels are where this author truly shines. Some of the novel's plotting is a bit blunt and predictable for anyone paying attention, but her characters are well-wrought and realistic and her settings are vibrantly realized. It's easy to envision both sets of plotlines but especially so when set in the lively, colorfully described India of Badani's pen. Likewise, the American Jaya is a character easy to understand and care for but it is Amisha that truly captures the heart of the novel. She lives a far different life than her modern counterpart but it's easy to see the echoes of one another across the decades that divide them.

There is perhaps just a shade too much perspective changing in The Storyteller's Secret. Each plotline has its merits and its problems, but jumping between first-person to third, so rapidly can highlight the artificiality of fiction. That, combined with the easily-predicted reveal, detract slightly from the story's conclusion. The Storyteller's Secret is a comprehensive, detailed novel, that does a lot right when it comes to character and setting. But though the good points outnumber the negative by a fair margin, it must be noted that overall, it was weighed down by a few too many chapters and a rather overt plot resolution.

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