Desert Isle Keeper Review
Olivia and Jai
(This DIK review was written by a reader)
1991 reissue of 1990 release, Historical Fiction (1840s India)
St. Martin's, $5.99, Amazon ASIN 0312925689
Olivia and Jai by Rebecca Ryman is one of those books that you sometimes find in a used bookstore and buy without really knowing why. I think my guardian angel must have drawn my attention to it in the store because it's now my favorite love story ever.
I first read this book while on vacation about six years ago and I loved it. I don't usually reread books - Gone With the Wind being the one exception, but about years years after I'd first read Olivia and Jai, I thought that it couldn't have been as good as I remembered the first time. So I read it again, and it was just as good. Then a few weeks ago, I thought that I probably only liked it the first two times because my reading tastes were more immature then and it's probably not that good anymore. So I read it again - I was wrong - it was even better.
I like my favorite books to have lots of interaction between the hero and heroine, lots of dialogue, and to be short on setting descriptions. This books breaks all those rules. The first 20 or so pages set the stage for the story and introduce you to the heroine. You don't meet the hero until about the 28th page and even then, it's a brief encounter. There's not a lot of dialogue between the hero and heroine during much of the book, and there's tons of description. But there's a purpose to all of this in Ryman's novel - she is setting the stage. It's as if you start off dangling your toes in the water, and before you know it you're swimming and don't want to get out. There's something magical about being drawn into a story so completely.
Olivia and Jai is the story of Olivia, an American woman, who in 1848 has just moved to Calcutta to visit her British aunt. This aunt wants to marry her off to a monied aristocrat, something that Olivia does not want at all. Olivia is a wonderful character and is the exact opposite of the TSTL heroine. In fact, she considers her cousin, Estelle, to be too stupid to live and can't stand her for that reason. My response to Olivia was immediate. I liked her immensely; she was innocent without being na´ve, intelligent without being haughty, and she certainly was not perfect. There are times in the book when she did things that were questionable, but she realized that they were questionable and her own doubts echoed my own.
One evening, completely by accident (or possibly fate?), Olivia meets Jai. Jai is my favorite hero ever - his past is definining his present and his future. He knows this, but can't escape it. Jai is the bastard son of a British aristocrat and an Indian village woman, who is now a shipping magnate and a thorn in the side of all British businessmen, most especially Olivia's Uncle Josh. Jai has a very dark past (I won't give this away because it's a key to the story), but his past has put him on a path of revenge and Olivia is in his way. But the two meet and find that they have "an affinity" for each other. The book develops this affinity, and in the middle of the book, things take a dark turn. Again, I don't want to give this away because it's a key to the story. As the book progresses, so do the characters. They change and mature as they are shaped by events beyond their control.
Every time I read Olivia and Jai, there are moments when I have to remind myself to breathe because I realize I've stopped. Turns of phrases and descriptions in the book stay with me because they are just so perfect. The characters haunt me. I hope that you will read it and feel the same way.
-- Carrie Hoon
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