Cover Image: Red Rain

Red Rain

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Member Reviews

This book was fantastic! I really enjoyed it and it kept me guessing throughout, which is difficult for most books to do. I felt like I connected with the characters and really enjoyed the plot!
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Brace yourself, people, this is going to be a long one.

Olivia Montag, with a dead baby and a broken marriage behind her, flees to India from the US to escape her sadness. Flush with the promise of Eat, Pray, Love, she seeks to re-invent her life by volunteering as an English teacher in a school for the underprivileged in a village in Kochi, Kerala.

She begins to enjoy teaching, but then realises that as girls begin to menstruate, they are pulled out of school for lack of sanitary napkins and on account of prevailing superstitions. When she meets Mukesh, a man who has invented a machine to produce low-cost sanitary napkins, she is blown by its potential to create positive change and offers to buy the machines and help him set up a production unit in the village. But the going will not be easy.

Will Olivia give up in the face of opposition? Or will she stand up for the girls? And will she be able to get this crazy enterprise to work?

 

The book, written in the 3rd person past tense PoV of Olivia, starts out with the right intentions. Olivia has the desire to do good, and the author wants to highlight the ills that prevail Indian society. A lot of the stuff she talks about is real, dowry problems, the desire for a male child, the superstitions associated with menstruation etc, all stem from a patriarchal mindset that pervades social customs. A lot of women do not have much agency when it comes to making decisions for themselves.

The book also gets some cultural bits right, when it talks about the head wobble that means yes, the slight jerk that means no, and the sideways jerk that means, go ahead.

 

The hero of this book is Mukesh, based on the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who actually did everything that is attributed to Mukesh here. If you want to know more about this real-life hero, look him up on YouTube or watch his brilliant Ted Talk.

 

Olivia is a character whose heart is in the right place. Her self-esteem has taken a beating and we see the development in her character arc. I also liked the fact that the focus remained firmly on her, and the romance wasn’t forced on us.

 

On the flip side, the other teachers remained flat. When they were gathered together, it was hard to tell who was talking. Of the minor characters, Olivia’s fellow teachers, only Aubra stood out for her jealousy, Chris for his helpfulness towards Olivia, and Watisha for how she counsels Olivia. Melanie and Delilah don’t stand out at all. Delilah quotes from books, but that has no impact whatsoever.

 

The prose was rather too simple and repetitive, especially when it came to Olivia’s past memories of her ex-husband, Scott.

I forgave the positive intentions that the author started out with, but large parts of this book were cringe-inducing. American audiences might love it, but I resented the blatant poverty porn and the faulty perception of my country through the lens of exotica.

Early on, Olivia watches flocks of green parrots flying overhead in Delhi of all places. People have lived and died in Delhi without seeing the sight that Olivia sees. Clearly the author’s research has been pathetic.
 
When Olivia first meets Chris, he palms off some coins to a taxi driver who is trying to extort money from Olivia under false pretences. When she protests, Chris mouths crap about “the severe poverty some of the people in this country grapple with, and the number who go hungry every day.” I wanted to reach into the page and slap his sanctimonious spirit right off his face.

The white man saving the brown skinned children from starvation with a few coins. Saviour complex much?

Incidentally, Chris’ heart bleeds for the dishonest taxi driver and his children, but with the vendors in the shops, he haggles, instead of paying the price they ask. Why? Don’t the vendors have kids that might be starving?

Then we have Olivia, who is stupid enough to fly halfway across the world to a country she has, like the author, done zero research on.

She sees “bare-chested women scrubbing clothing against rocks in a putrid gray-brown river.” The same river in which she sees “a dead carcass float by,” lest you assume the carcass is alive.

Incidentally, Kochi, the city in which this book is set, is in Kerala, the state with the highest performance on several indices such as health, education, literacy, law and order, public welfare etc. Again, zero research. The basic premise of the book, girls being pulled out of school once they began menstruating, would not apply to Kerala. It is the height of ridiculousness to suggest that Kochi doesn’t have good sanitary pads.

Zero research on descriptions. Olivia tells us there are “tropical trees surrounding the school on all sides.” Tropical trees in a tropical country. Who would have guessed?

The whole thing about women not driving is another example of lack of research. Not everyone drives in India. That’s because cars are expensive, and not everyone can afford to buy one, but it’s also because the public transportation system is reliable and cost-effective and serves people’s needs well. A vehicle of one’s own isn’t a priority.

One of the characters, a British woman named Aubra, says, “This culture doesn’t accept women drivers. People would shout at us. Other drivers would be aggressive and maybe even try to run us off the road.” What bull crap! This is an example of reputation maligning.

There were around 429 thousand driving licenses issued among females across the Indian state of Kerala in fiscal year 2019, the highest in India. The total newly issued driving licenses in Kerala was over 10.5 million that year, out of which 14.9 percent were for women. Where did the author come up with the stupid information that she forced into Aubra’s mouth?

The teachers talk about taking a tuk-tuk. The right word, used everywhere in India, is autorickshaw. Tuk-tuk is what these vehicles are called in Thailand.

The food suffers in a similar fashion. Ms Vanya’s culinary skills never produced idli, dosa or sambar, the most well-known foods in South Indian cuisine and the staple diet of people there. Instead the narrative only mentions bland cauliflower, peas and potatoes cooked together, along with rice, dal and chapatis. Indian food is known for its diversity; these poor characters have been shortchanged. Again, meat isn’t “less readily available,” in India, least of all in Kerala which loves its beef.

Exposing one’s legs would be frowned on in rural areas, but it wouldn’t be “completely taboo.”

In one scene, where Olivia is trying to put together a first aid kit, we are told that Indians don’t understand the word, bandages. Ms Bernhardt, India has one of the largest populations of non-native English speakers anywhere. This scene is ridiculous.

A minor character, Rahul, we are told, “laced his fingers across the paunch beneath his ample shalwar.” The right word is kameez, which means tunic. Shalwar stands for the loose pants worn as part of an ensemble. Also, men in Kerala wear the lungi at home. The shalwar kameez is worn by North Indians.

I can understand the culture shock but the false information is annoying. The very title, Red Rain, was forced. It had no direct link with the main plot. I suspect it was included to highlight the menstruation angle.

All in all, not a book that deserves to be recommended.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Admission Press for the advance reader copy.

I'll admit, I wasn't entirely sure at first. Our main character, Olivia, is naive and very culturally tone-deaf at times which, for me at least, made her quite unlikeable to begin with. However, once the story moved and Olivia's character grew, I did find myself really rooting for her. The author did a really good of covering issues like domestic abuse, access to feminine hygiene products, infant loss and misogyny while giving us an ending that was uplifting but realistic. The biggest shame was how one dimensional a lot of the supporting characters felt. It would have done a lot to really expand the plot.
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This book was interesting and very well-written. I would likely want to read more from this author and will recommend this to friends.
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I have a tendency to choose which book I want to read next by reading their first lines and first paragraph. This book instantly sucked me in!!!

But what kept me reading was being part of Olivia’s journey as she left behind her shattered life to teach English in India. I could feel her discomfort with new situations and her triumph with finding her way through it all with the help of new friends. I loved the descriptions of Indian markets and teaching her students. I was absolutely captivated to learn more about Indian culture right along with Olivia. 

Overall a story of hope and second chances in finding yourself and a life you love, it reminded me of a more realistic version of Eat Pray Love.
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Olivia's marriage ended after the tragic loss of her child. Hurt and not quite sure what to do next, she decides to move all the way to India and try to start fresh, while working through the mourning process. She finds a job in Karela as an English teacher. Without doing any research upfront,  Olivia goes through what we call "culture shock". 

Overall it was a good book, with a decent storyline. I wished Olivia was a more developed character. Some parts of the book were too repetitive.
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An uplifting novel, telling of the losses of a teacher embarking on a journey to India to teach English in Kerala. Sensitively written, recommended reading.
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Red rain byLara Bernhardt. 
Olivia Montag is a professor who doesn’t have all the answers. The devastating loss of a child ended her marriage, and she’s been overlooked for a job promotion one time too many. Not sure what comes next, she leaves it all behind and volunteers to teach English to schoolchildren in India.
A good read.  I did find it slow but I read it. 3*.
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Red Rain by Lara Bernhardt

Olivia Montag has recently suffered a terrible trauma and the end of her marriage. After months of barely being able to function, she decides to accept a teaching position in a small school in a remote town of Kerala, India. Once there, she begins to make friends with the other foreign teachers at the school, but it heartbroken to learn that most of the girls are pulled from school when they start to menstruate. Olivia, with the help of new friends, sets out to see if she can make life better for the women and girls of this remote town.

I was drawn to the description of the plot, having spent time in India myself and being a proponent of women’s issues around the world. Unfortunately, this book was not for me. I found it to be quite repetitive as Olivia works through her tragedy and looks back on her marriage. I found that the other characters felt one-dimensional, with little personality. While I felt sympathy for Olivia, I didn’t really connect with her as a character.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for a candid review. To begin, I’m thinking the promotion of this book should be pitched as Young Womens Contemporary Fiction, emphases on ‘young’ or honestly, it could even realistically be targeted for the YA market. With that caveat in mind, I can give it 2 stars. As a mature retired mid-60ish person, it really struck me as written quite simplistically with much repetition and little complexity. In my opinion, there wasn’t a single character, including Olivia, the protagonist, who was depicted with depth. I really missed the descriptive details that I expect to derive from solid fiction writing in this narrative. There was just too much left unsaid for strong reader engagement. So, apologies up front, but I didn’t care for this book and am definitely not on the same page as other reviewers. Who I am guessing are much younger than I am. 

A brief summary of the plot is that Olivia, a young American woman, probably Caucasian but who knows? since we’re never given those details, having survived a traumatic abusive childhood, managed to get herself a decent education, decent job and married an emotionally abusive jerk. Olivia had a strong relationship with her mother that languished after her marriage to said jerk and she apparently has no friends either. The marriage fails after a tragedy drives the couple apart instead of binding them closer together and Olivia attempts to cope by pursuing a position as a volunteer teacher of young children in India. Where she’s never been. Then more stuff happens, mostly improbable. Here are some examples of highly unrealistic situations that run rampant throughout this book.
1) Olivia is so naive, she failed to adequately research the country she’s planning to live and teach in for 6 months. The climate, poverty, cuisine, dress and paternalistic society all come as a complete shock to her. 
2) She had no experience or training for teaching young children but is put in the situation regardless. How surprising is it that she makes several predictable blunders? Oops. 
3) While navigating her position as an inexperienced, untrained volunteer teacher, she takes it upon herself to challenge traditional Indian power, cultural structure  and gender roles, risking her own welfare and that of her students and the reputation of the school. She is a crusader and while I’m sure some readers might be impressed with her crusading, it made me cringe to read about someone acting in such an ignorant and culturally tone-deaf manner. So, not to spoil the book for potential readers, I’ll stop with more plot description now. Except…
4) There is predictably a love interest storyline because why not? 

Lastly, while no mention of menstruation- that’s  right, menstruation- is mentioned anywhere in the promotional blurb for this book, it plays a large role in the plot. Now, I’m no prude, seriously, I gave birth 3 times and taught middle school for many years.  I’m open to reading about all kinds of things, but I’m old. At 20+ years postmenopausal, I just don’t find the topic of menstruation and sanitary products especially fascinating enough to want to read a book with that topic as a focal point. Hence, my recommendation of moving this title to YA fiction. Although the book banning folks would probably yank it from the school libraries if it made it there.
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This is a fascinating story of how one person can make a difference and of how a community can propel that one person’s difference into action that changes womens’ lives. I love that this is based on something real that is happening in our world right now and how changes really are happening. I loved the descriptions of India and her people as seen through the eyes of the very American Olivia. 

The only reason I’m giving it four stars instead of five is because I felt that somethings were repeated/explained too many times. For example, the first two or three times that Olivia compared her ex-husband to Chris were enough for me to get that she was beginning to say that her husband had been a jerk… I did not need to listen to her compare them again and again and again. 

This is an important book that should be read by men and women everywhere!
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Red Rain is hands down the best general fiction book I've read this year! 

The characters are warm, living, and breathing. You can tell the writing is good when fictional characters are aggravating! My only criticism is that some of the dialogue didn't flow well, but a majority of the writing was wonderful and well paced. 

Red Rain spotlights issues which all too many women around the world struggle with:domestic abuse, access to feminine hygiene products, infant loss, inferiority to patriarchy. Even though it's a fictional account, it's full of many truths. I lost count of how many times i teared up while reading this book. Every woman should read it!
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Thank you to NetGalley and Admission Press for this ARC. 

Wow - I’m speechless. 

This is the most beautiful book I’ve read in years.

It’s a story of grief, friendship, forgiveness and love.

Lara Bernhardt’s writing was spectacular in painting a setting full life, colour and culture. Her characters were felt real - flawed, beautiful and warm.

Red Rain made me laugh and cry and I’m so thankful I’ve been able to read it. It has made me feel so thankful for my friendships and hopeful for the future.
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