In Zara Raheem’s fresh debut novel, The Marriage Clock (William Morrow), a Muslim-American woman races to find the man of her dreams as her traditional Indian parents threaten to arrange the marriage for her.

The truth? Leila Abid would like to have someone else’s life. As a child, she envisioned far grander things for her adult self than working as an underpaid English teacher and still living with her parents. But perhaps her biggest concern is that she—the girl who once had such a huge affinity for Bollywood romances—has turned ambivalent about love. How could this have happened? A friend suggests that she wants perfection, and pushes Leila to decide exactly what she wants in a guy. The resulting list of forty-six traits written on seven napkins brings her no closer to finding that nice Muslim man.

But at her twenty-sixth birthday dinner, Leila’s ambivalence is overtaken by a new reality when her mother whips out a one-inch stack of resumes all of potential suitors. Her mother has compiled biodata on each man, from birthday to family history to profession. Leila feels smothered and horrified. To her dismay her father shares her mother’s desperate viewpoint: it is high time we found you a husband. After a few agonizing get-togethers with her mother’s top picks, Leila confronts her parents. This cannot go on.  They agree to give her three months to find a husband on her own—until their thirtieth wedding anniversary—and if she fails, they will resume the search.

In twenty-something fashion, Leila enlists the help of her girlfriends, because three months is scant time for this daunting job. With their brainstorming and support, Leila jumps into the fray, and a whirlwind of blind dates, cyber dates, and a speed-dating night ensues. To add to the fun, Leila’s mother pays no heed to her daughter’s request to back off. Neither do all the Indian “aunties” in their community who have known Leila from birth and also want her married off, leading to several ambush dates and a consult with a professional matchmaker.

The results are mixed, from comical misfits to perfectly nice guys with whom nothing clicks. As Leila strives to be openminded with each new man, she gradually finds that some and probably most of the forty-six traits—sexy, passionate, attentive, ambitious, spontaneous, chivalrous, muscular, inter alia—may be too high a bar for any of these contenders to reach. But not all of these men are duds. She endures attraction, excitement and heartbreak. She gradually shows her vulnerability as she tries to stand in her truth, no matter how awkward, with those who matter most.

This book is not only fast-paced but also offers a rich and vibrant picture of Indian culture and tradition, set not only in Los Angeles but also in Mumbai. Leila’s parents’ own marriage and even the views of Leila’s cousins growing up in India suggest that within a supportive community, an arranged marriage might be able to thrive. Raheem also paints a vivid picture of young Indian-American women and the juggle they endure to please their Indian-born parents in a Western country.

Raheem dedicates the book to every woman who has ever been told she wasn’t enough. In the face of ubiquitous cultural traditions—not just Indian ones—that measure a woman’s worth by her marriageability, Leila’s journey shows us that the true measure of a woman’s worth is that she values herself. With that, all other things are possible.

The Marriage Clock is now available.



Zara Raheem received her MFA in Fiction from California State University, Long Beach and has been teaching English and Creative Writing for the past nine years. She resides in Southern California and The Marriage Clock is her first novel.