I’m predisposed to love expat memoir, but Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon chronicles just how hard is it to be a rich expat housewife in India.
I recognize some of the expat juxtapositions described here, particularly imagining I’d come home filled with Eastern peace and wisdom, that I’d be fluent in Chinese (not just to be able to navigate China smoothly and independently, but filled with concepts so wise and deep I could only express them in the original Mandarin) but then actually finding myself daydreaming about grilled cheese and Cosmo. I empathized so much with Jenny, buying Ragu and all sorts of other import delicacies in a crazed expat grocery store, until she returns to her husband with her bounty, asking, like a caricature of a sitcom wife, if the 3500 rupees she’s spent is a lot of money. Ladies! Sure love shopping! Aren’t so good with math! Ugh.
A protagonist in an exotic land with endless money and no responsibilities isn’t necessarily a bad premise, but it does make it fairly difficult to empathize with her complaints about the treacherous chauffeur-driven journey to the nearest coffeeshop. There’s also a depressing undercurrent of sexism in this book. Even after Jenny and her husband Jay reconcile and are passionately in love, and she has recommitted to making the best of her time in India, his additions to her India Bucket List of are about finally learning to iron his shirts and cook his breakfast properly.
I admit to coming to the novel with great love for expat memoir, so I should admit to also coming in with Olympic-level eye-rolling at heroines who describe encountering a laundry list of pregnancy symptoms and then are so totally surprised to be pregnant. This is a narrative cop-out best kept in soap operas. (I’d like to give Karma Gone Bad a pass since it’s a memoir, and being surprised that morning sickness = pregnancy is more understandable in messy real life. But then I would have to take seriously the scenes in which the rich housewife encounters adorably grateful orphans and learns the True Meaning Of Life.)
I kept reading because I wanted to hear more about Indian expat life, but I can’t think of anything to say I liked, besides, maybe, recognizing the hints of the special kind of solitude that comes from being in a crowded foreign land, struggling with the exotic language. Even if those struggles in this book were arguing with the houseboy.
I received this as an eARC to review, and as you can see, free books don’t affect my opinion.