Recipe for Persuasion (William Morrow), the second installment in Sonali Dev’s brilliant new “Raje series,” is a lovely reimagining of the classic Austen tale. For those new to the series, Dev takes Jane Austen’s beloved storylines and reimagines them in modern-day Los Angeles with the prominent Indian-American Raje family and their friends as the main protagonists.
In this nod to Persuasion, struggling chef Ashna Raje and famous footballer Rico Silva are placed together on a major Food Network cooking show years after their painful breakup. Their disastrous first meeting goes viral, and there is no way their new throng of fans will allow them to be voted off the show in its early weeks. Together, they light up the camera, but whether or not they’ll be able to rekindle their old romance remains to be seen. It’s clear neither has truly gotten over the breakup, and the forced interactions are a painful reminder of what was lost. Meanwhile, Ashna struggles with the influence her late father has on her life and her cooking and the challenges she has forming a bond with her distant mother, Shobi, who has always seemed more devoted to her causes than her family.
The story is, on its surface, a simple but charming romantic comedy. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, years later boy goes to extraordinary lengths to see girl again in hopes of finding closure. It’s a familiar story in many ways, but the twists and licenses that Dev takes with this retelling make it a truly captivating read. To this point, Dev brings to the table an incredibly vibrant cast of characters and a nuanced treatment of multi-generational family drama all while being delectably readable and relatable. It’s a perfect read for the back patio with a glass of sangria this summer, but it’s not the sort of fluffy summer read you will just leave behind.
I love the romance storyline. Obviously, I’m a sucker for a good love story, especially something that subverts old tropes. But it was Shobi’s storyline that really grabbed my heart. While it’s clear Shobi wasn’t an ideal mother (and let’s face it, who is?) we learn that Shobi’s devotion to her causes is not just the tool of her narcissism, but a way for her to cope with a cruel and unjust past. I love how her journey goes from appearing selfish and removed to truly being the most sympathetic character in the book. The flashbacks to Shobi’s past are deftly woven into the present-day timeline and add a lovely layer to this beautifully woven story.
In addition to Ashna, Rico and Shobi, who are all simply delightful as characters, the supporting cast, many of whom featured in the first installment in the series, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, is fully developed and compelling. I found myself wondering which characters would be featured in the next retelling and there wasn’t one I wouldn’t be excited to see further developed. Dev is quickly becoming one of my go-to writers for romantic comedies with heart and brains. Grab a copy of both the Raje books for a delightful summer “staycation” on the back patio!