We’re about two months away from the Jane Austen Summer Program, and we’re so excited to hear from our amazing lineup of speakers, including award-winning Chicago-area author Sonali Dev. NPR said her 2014 book “A Bollywood Affair” was a “vibrant and exuberantly romantic” tale, while Kirkus Book Reviews called her 2015 novel “The Bollywood Bride” a “bright, beautiful gem.” With her latest work, “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors” (due out May 7), Dev offers a modern take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” It centers on an Indian American neurosurgeon from an ambitious family who butts heads with a promising British chef. Why did Dev choose to put her own spin on the classic novel? Read on.
What was your first introduction to Jane Austen?
Amazingly, it was this Indian TV adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” called “Trishna” in the 1980s. I was in middle school and so taken up by the romance of a girl being wanted for exactly who she was, opinions and all, that I went straight to the library and checked out “Pride and Prejudice” and read it over and over, and was lost forever.
What was it about “Pride and Prejudice” that made you want to put your own spin on it?
As a child I wrote a million adaptations of it in my head. There was just such a relatable quality to it for me growing up in India in a culture that made a huge deal of getting daughters married off. I come from a family that advocated hard for the belief that sons and daughters were the same. But ironically enough, the fact that such advocacy was necessary at all proved that they weren’t the same. By the time I was an adult I had fought that fight hard within myself and with the world around me, and the story of women needing marriage to secure their position in society was no longer relevant to me. I became obsessed with finding ways to translate the more deeply embedded themes in the novel, those of the power imbalances in society and the courage it takes to value yourself and shatter ranks in the face of those imbalances.
What was the most difficult part of “Pride and Prejudice” to adapt in your novel?
Keeping the conflicts authentic to the time and place in which my story is set, which is modern-day California. The divisions in society are much more subtle today and much less absolute than they were in Austen’s day, but they are much more complex and layered.
One of the things I loved about “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors” is the gender switch. Did you set out knowing you would make Trisha the “Darcy” and DJ the “Elizabeth”?
Absolutely. Wanting to write a female Darcy was the seed for this novel. I’ve always been fascinated by how very eagerly we lap up an arrogant, unapologetically prickly hero who has to make no effort to be “likable,” that non-negotiable quality demanded of all female heroes in fiction. I must stop to reiterate how much I love Mr. Darcy, but large as his economic privilege is, his male privilege is humongous. Needless to say, authentically replicating his pride and comfort in his skin (owning his privilege) in a woman was eye-opening.
If you could go back in time and give your past self a piece of advice about writing this book, what would it be?
It would be the same advice I should remember to give myself when I write any book: No matter how impossible it feels that everything you want to say and show in the story will end up on the pages, it does come together in the end. So, breathe.
Which “Pride and Prejudice” character are you most like? What about in “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors”?
Why, I’m Mr. Darcy, of course. That would make me Trisha, I guess?
Sonali Dev’s “Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors” hits stores May 7. She is scheduled to speak at JASP on Saturday, June 22, followed by a book signing with fellow authors Uzma Jalaluddin (“Ayesha at Last”) and Soniah Kamal (“Unmarriageable”). To register for JASP, CLICK HERE.