On November 8, Jane Austen & Company kicked off their Fall 2023-Winter 2024 series, The Many Flavors of Jane Austen, with a bang, inviting bestselling author Sonali Dev to share her writerly inspirations and discuss what she believes Austen means to audiences today. Sonali is a Jane Austen & Co. and JASP veteran, having previously co-hosted a discussion in 2019 on food, family, and identity in Austen’s fiction. Her Rajes Family book series, including Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Recipe for Persuasion, Incense and Sensibility, and The Emma Project, re-imagines Austen’s beloved characters as a family of successful Indian immigrants living in San Francisco as they each struggle to find love and belonging in the modern world.
“I am not a scholar,” Sonali reminds us at the beginning of her talk. “What I am is a fan.” And what a talented, creative fan she is! With a cheeky laugh, she adds, “The adult woman that I am—we could pretty much blame Jane Austen for that.”
Sonali first discovered Austen as a young girl in Mumbai, India, while watching Trishna, a Bollywood-style television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Set in modern-day (read: 1985) India and starring “real-life prince” Tarun Dhanrajgir as Rahul, the series' Mr. Darcy character, Trishna ignited “Darcy-mania in India long before Colin Firth showed up.”
After falling in love withTrishna, Sonali sought out Austen’s original novels. Used to traditional narratives placing women in supporting or sacrificial roles, she was fascinated by the notion of female protagonists who want something in life—especially those who want something and get it by the end of the book. Even as a young girl, Sonali was in love with all-things-Austen, and she began composing adaptations in her head long before she sat down with a paper and pen to write in earnest.
The Rajes Family series pays homage to Sonali’s favorite Austen’s books: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. In Austen’s tradition, Sonali’s books grapple with privilege, wealth, and class, and how these affect our self-worth in the social ladder of modern society.
For instance: How does Elizabeth Bennet maintain the self-respect to reject a marriage proposal from the hottest man in England when the choice is between that or destitution? How do ultra-privileged characters like Mr. Darcy learn to cultivate a lens of empathy through which to view the world? Are our social statuses as fixed as we believe them to be? How do people learn to make choices for themselves, free of financial, social, and familial influence? Should the “haves” of the world possess the ability to make decisions for the “have-nots”?
Sonali brilliantly tackles questions like these in the Rajes Family series, addressing universal, real-world issues amidst exciting backdrops—for example, a televised cooking show, which sets the stage for Recipe for Persuasion—and indulging the romance-reader’s love for a happily ever after.
To our dismay, Sonali does not plan to extend the Rajes Family series to adapt Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey, but never fear! According to the author herself, at least one of her novels has been optioned for motion picture development, so we’re anticipating good things ahead.
Following a brief Q&A with the Jane Austen & Co. panelists and audience members, Sonali ended the evening with a delightful reading from the last installment in her final Rajes Family series, The Emma Project. A recording of Jane Austen & Co.’s first live stream in The Many Flavors of Austen series is available on YouTube or the Jane Austen & Co. website. For more Sonali Dev content, watch (or re-watch!) Jane Austen & Co.’s 2019 panel “Food, Family, and Identity with Sonali Dev and Soniah Kamal”.
USA Today Bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that let her explore issues faced by women around the world while still indulging her faith in a happily ever after. Sonali’s novels have been on Library Journal, NPR, Washington Post, and Kirkus’s Best Books of the year lists. She has won the American Library Association’s award for best romance, the RT Reviewer Choice Award for best contemporary romance, multiple RT Seals of Excellence, is a RITA® finalist, and has been listed for the Dublin Literary award, among other honors. Shelf Awareness calls her “Not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” She lives in Chicagoland with her very patient and often amused husband and two teens, who demand both patience and humor, and the world’s most perfect dog. Find more at www.sonalidev.com.