Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home
Alison Singh Gee (Facebook)
St. Martin’s Press (February 2013), hardcover (ISBN 0312378785 / 9780312378783)
Memoir, 288 page
A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (February 26, 2013). Shelf Awareness provided a galley for review purposes and payment for the review.
Opening lines: “I never knew peacocks could fly.
“I never knew they could do much of anything. As a child growing up in Northeast Los Angeles, I only ever saw them at the botanical gardens in Pasadena or roaming the zoo. They were stunning birds, with their built-in tiaras and show-off coloring. But let’s face it: They seemed pretty useless. Waddling across manicured lawns, admiring flowers, plopping their fat stomachs onto grassy patches in the shade, these pampered birds only broke a sweat when the garden groundskeeper rang the dinner bell. Peacocks were charming but relatively pointless, flashing their plumage like a socialite working her best fur and jewels, and that’s all.
Or so I thought.
“My understanding of peacocks was about to take a quantum leap.”
Book description, from the publisher’s website
Alison Singh Gee was a glamorous magazine writer with a serious Jimmy Choo habit, a weakness for five-star Balinese resorts, and a reputation for dating highborn British men. Then she met Ajay, a charming and unassuming Indian journalist, and her world turned upside down. Traveling from her shiny, rapid-fire life in Hong Kong to Ajay’s native village, Alison learns that not all is as it seems.
Turns out that Ajay is a landed prince (of sorts), but his family palace is falling to pieces. Replete with plumbing issues, strange noises, and intimidating relatives, her new love’s ramshackle palace, Mokimpur, is a broken-down relic in desperate need of a makeover. And Alison wonders if she can soldier on for the sake of the man who just might be her soul mate.
This modern-day fairytale takes readers on a cross-cultural journey from the manicured gardens of Beverly Hills, to the bustling streets of Hong Kong and finally to the rural Indian countryside as Alison comes to terms with her complicated new family, leaves the modern world behind, and learns the true meaning of home.
Comments: By the time Alison Singh Gee established herself as a Hong Kong-based entertainment journalist, she’d traveled more than halfway around the world from her Los Angeles roots and her big, chaotic Chinese-American family, but her busy, glamorous expat life seemed to be missing something. She’d have to travel a bit more before she found it in a decaying family estate in northern India.
Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home is Singh Gee’s recounting of her unexpected romance with fellow journalist Ajay Singh–a relationship that began over e-mail, flourished when he left his base in Delhi and moved to Hong Kong to be with her, and was challenged almost from the beginning by cultural and socioeconomic differences. As a child, Alison had read about and dreamed of Indian palaces and royalty. She was stunned to learn that Ajay actually was Indian royalty. But when he took her to visit Mokimpur, his family’s beloved, decrepit hundred-room palace, she may have been even more stunned to discover both how much the lives of modern Indian royalty have changed from those books she read as a girl, and how slowly some things about Indian life change at all.
While its settings are exotic, SIngh Gee’s experiences of finding one’s place within the family and the world at large are near-universal. Where the Peacocks Sing is a charming memoir with cross-genre appeal to fans of multicultural literature and women’s fiction. It’s the story of a woman who finds her prince…and discovers that his palace is in need of a lot of upkeep.