The Zoya Factor is an entertaining read about India, cricket, celebrity culture, and romance. The writing is exuberant, funny, full of Indian English and Hindi slang, and I adored it. I am very grateful to deepad
for introducing me to this book via her Anuja Chauhan Reading Club
Zoya Singh Solanki works in advertising and ends up having breakfast a couple of times with the Indian cricket team, who have a sponsorship deal with one of her clients ahead of the imminent World Cup. The last time India won the tournament was the moment Zoya was born - this combined with unexpected victories for the team after breakfasting with Zoya leads to some players seeing her as a lucky charm. This leads to the IBCC paying for Zoya to go with the to Australia and bring them luck for the World Cup. Not everyone is convinced, least of all the handsome and famous team captain, Nikhil Khoda.
The romance subplot is ( mild spoilers )
The cricket thread is a lot of fun. I'm a casual fan of cricket and a bad amateur player; Zoya supposedly dislikes cricket but her narration betrays a lot of knowledge of the game anyway. I loved the descriptions of Indian national enthusiasm, especially by comparison with Australia's "cricket fever". The characterisation of the various players is great, several apart from Nikhil are major characters, but even the minor ones are more than just a name to make up the squad, with consistent play and behaviour over a number of matches.
The supporting cast, oh my! The other team members, Zoya's father, brother, aunts horrible and kind, her work colleagues, the player's agent, the IBCC chair ... there's a lot of characters in this book but I had little difficulty keeping them straight, which I think is another sign of Chauhan's skill.
And the language! I've read reviews saying it was offputting, but for me, it was easier than adjusting to Austen's English, or some of the more fiercely historically-accurate Heyers. It's full of slang and code-switching and bits of a language I don't understand, but almost all of it makes sense in context. Occasionally I google-translated some of the Hindi out of interest but I rapidly found I didn't need to. (There is I think just one line in mixed Hindi/English towards the end of the book which does make Zoya's actions a bit more explicable once translated.)
And I found it very funny, and occasionally biting, for example this description of some of the sports agents:
"... sharp dressers with fancy phones and haircuts straight out of the latest Farhan Akhtar film. They always carry books like The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People with Business-Class boarding pass stubs as bookmarks."
or this bit in Australia
"The organizers had warned us about traffic but Rinku Chachi said, 'What traffic? This whole country and all its cars will fit in our UP state only'"
There's a bit where Zoya is about to arrive in Australia and has a minor panic at being in a strange country:
"But then the fact that I was in another country, a First World country chock-full of unilingual white people, suddenly hit me .... People who knew only one language which was weird. Because, hello, what would they switch to if they started getting pally, or angry, or fell in love? Suddenly I just wanted to jump back into the plane and head home."
As a unilingual white person I felt a bit got-at by this passage; and then I thought maybe it was an intentional inversion of the trope of White People Abroad panicking that they won't understand the language.
Anyway, I haven't even covered the treatment of luck and superstition, or the skewering of celebrity culture, but it's late and I want to get this posted. If you want something fun, entertaining but not completely frivolous to read, I highly recommend The Zoya Factor
. I will happily lend out my copy to local people; also Amazon UK has it on Kindle or in paperback for under £3.