Madras on Rainy Days A Novel

Samina Ali




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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A Finalist for the Northern California Book Award

In the heat and clamor of the ancient city of Hyderabad, Layla and her mother, their faces veiled behind chadors, rush through the city's narrow alleys. It is two days before Layla's marriage to a man she hardly knows, and the family is in crisis. Layla has begun to defy the union the family has so carefully arranged for her.

Convinced her daughter must be possessed, Amme forces her to visit an alim, a mystic healer, reputed to see the truth despite his blindness. Whether the alim glimpses the true nature of Layla's demon is unclear. But she soon realizes that she has no choice but to deny the freedoms she has known in America and submit to the marriage. If she doesn't, she will be banished from her family and everything she knows.

Her husband is a handsome, ambitious engineer, and to Layla's surprise, he provides her with exactly what she has yearned for: a home. Yet on their honeymoon in Madras, as the monsoon rains drum ceaselessly down outside, the air in the hotel room suddenly swirls thick with long-buried secrets.

In this finely observed debut novel, Samina Ali intimately explores a girl's journey to self-possession. Ali's haunting prose and richly drawn characters lay bare the complex and hidden world behind the veil.


Praise for Madras on Rainy Days

"Madras on Rainy Days explores . . . the immigrant's uniquely dual existence . . . [Ali is] abundantly talented."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Ali explores cultural conditions with sensitivity, and mercifully does not over-exoticise. Her story is intriguing . . . She is one of a rare breed of writers who take us into the closed world behind a Muslim woman's veil . . . Carefully crafted [and] eminently readable."—Mitali Saran, Far Eastern Economic Review

"Madras on Rainy Days delights the reader with its subtlety as it unfolds gracefully. Samina Ali presents a palimpsest that peels away from time to time to reveal much insight and meaning . . . Ali is convincing in her depiction of the confusion, ambivalence, and conflicting loyalties that motivate people . . . Madras is one of the few novels that have been written about a modern Muslim woman who has to make her way in the world. It is far removed from the stereotypical images of women terrorists and fundamentalist Islam. That Islamic civilizations are varied, and that Indian Islam is very different from that of the Middle East or Afghanistan is not spelled out but taken for granted, and that young Indian Muslim women try to come to terms with life like any other women in the world is a given. The book cleverly uncovers degrees of reality and morality, depicting a society that is in deep crisis, where change is coming, and with it some hope . . . There are no villains in Madras but perhaps there is a heroine, Layla, who finds the strength to face reality and to make the decision that is right for her. Beautifully written, this tale gently asserts that tragedy is what we make of it, that destiny need not be relentless, and that we can and indeed must recover from betrayals."—Mandira Sen, The Women's Review of Books

"This book goes to a place where few, if any, of its predecessors have gone before. . . [This is] a deeply feminist novel with richly drawn and complicated characters."—Ms.

"Layla and Sameer tussle out not just their personal and sexual struggles, but the larger questions of where and how they can belong to both the United States and India. The novel has a fierce and shimmering intensity . . . Madras on Rainy Days has given us something new."—The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"In this beautifully written and fully realized first novel by Samina Ali, a Muslim Hyderabadi wedding serves to illuminate the gulf between the Muslim world and America while also bridging that gulf with the heartbreaking story of how one young Muslim girl becomes a woman. Madras on Rainy Days covers the full spectrum of human conflicts and joys: betrayal, cruelty, despair, and yes—the possibility of redemption and hope."—ZZ Packer, author of Drinking Coffee Elsewhere

"With her debut novel, Madras on Rainy Days, Samina Ali makes a bold entrance on the scene of American immigrant literature. Ali is a compelling storyteller. In language that is at once lyrical and unsentimental, she explores both the upside and the downside of being a first generation Muslim Indo-American woman, trapped between the demands of competing cultural heritages. This is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the multicultural fabric of contemporary America."—Bharati Mukherjee, author of Desirable Daughters

"Samina Ali has written a wonderful, wrenching family story. While it begins in the traditional moral dilemma of whether to submit to an arranged marriage, the story progresses in ways that challenge every stereotype and expectation we might put upon it. The novel deepens with each revelation as her young narrator discovers the truth about the home she left behind and learns the true character of the people who supposedly love her. In the end, she is left with the messy beauty of a real life, one that can't be categorized or controlled, only embraced."—Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?

"Samina Ali has created, in her first novel, a compelling story, filled with psychological insight and a deep understanding of the conflicts that plague all of us who inhabit two worlds at the same time."—Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of Mistress of Spices and The Vine of Desire

"Ali's first novel is set in the Indian city of Hyderabad, where Layla is days away from her arranged marriage to Sameer, a handsome young engineer. But Layla is harboring a secret: before she left her home in America, she slept with an American man and became pregnant. Layla has been taking pills to abort the baby, but they've caused her to bleed constantly. Her distraught mother takes her to a spiritual healer, but he is unable to help, and the wedding goes forward despite Layla's concerns. On their first night together she confesses to Sameer that she is not a virgin, and a rift forms instantly between the young newlyweds. Layla finds her new in-laws welcoming and overjoyed to have her, and she warms to her husband and longs to consummate their marriage. But Sameer has a secret as well, one that could ruin his marriage to Layla before it has really begun. Religious clashes and civil unrest also factor into this powerful, atmospheric novel of modern-day India."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Prologue: One Year Ago


Suffering quietly in a room not my own. The door locked. The wooden shutters pulled closed and bolted. No breeze out there, nothing to rustle the leaves of the mango or coconut trees. Only stillness. Early...

Read the full excerpt




  • Samina Ali

  • Samina Ali was born in Hyderabad, India, and was raised in both India and the United States. She received her M.F.A. from the University of Oregon. She lives in California.





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