Following her first book, The Taste of Ginger, Mansi Shah is back with her second novel, The Direction of the Wind. I admit that I went into this book blind (something I’ve been doing more frequently lately), but I was instantly absorbed into this beautiful and impactful story. Following a mother and daughter traveling from India to France two decades apart, it’s a novel about women coming of age and discovering who they really are.
Special thanks to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this book!
Nita Shah is married and has a six-year-old daughter, Sophie; she lives in relative luxury in Ahmedabad, India. However, she’s always dreamed of more and is dissatisfied with her life. She has no agency, didn’t even get to choose her husband, and feels unable to fully love her daughter. Her whole life has been laid out for her, but she’s ready to finally choose her own path. In 1998, she leaves her small family behind so she can start over in Paris, France.
Sophie Shah has grown up thinking her mother died in 1998. But in 2019, shortly after her dad has passed away, she finds out that her mother actually ran away. Why did Nita leave them? Desperate for answers, Sophie goes to Paris in search of her long-lost mother. Will she be able to find Nita? And if so, can Sophie rebuild a relationship with her?
The Direction of the Wind is a novel that took me by surprise. Although it may look like a simple story of a daughter searching for the mother she thought was dead, it delves into much bigger themes and leaves the reader with a new perspective.
In the late 1990s, Nita Shah abandoned her husband and daughter, leaving an easy and comfortable life in India for a life of striving in France. Though she’s 30 years old, Nita is naive and uncertain how to make her way in Paris. Some people she meets are kind and helpful; others will lead her down a difficult road. When her daughter Sophie searches Paris in 2019, she comes with some of the same naivety but also with more sure footing. Both come of age, in a way, while in Paris, but the conclusions they each draw may differ.
Early on, one element I enjoyed in The Direction of the Wind is the culture shock both Nita and Sophie experience in Paris. French culture—or Western culture more widely—is so different to what they’re used to in India! It’s in everything, from greetings (kisses on the cheeks!) to the openness with which people talk to each other to the way families interact. Nita, in particular, is determined to fit in, to assimilate to French culture. For her, this means dressing in jeans rather than a sari, drinking wine, smoking cigarettes.
Both Nita and Sophie get into some tough spots, and both learn how sheltered they’ve been up until now. The men in their lives paid for everything, the servants took care of everything, and family was always there to help (or control). In Paris, these two women need to earn money to survive, and both must learn who they can trust as they make their way forward.
One of the most impactful themes in The Direction of the Wind is the discussion of mental health. Nita describes a darkness inside of her. Why can’t she be happy? Will she always be chasing joy and fulfillment? She feels so out of place; will moving to a new country solve her problems? As Nita works towards being a painter, she ends up living the true lifestyle of the “starving artist.” With time, her perspective of Paris and of herself shifts… but how can she move forward now?
The Direction of the Wind goes in some surprisingly dark directions. I will admit that I had tears in my eyes towards the end. The book is so beautifully and tenderly written, I couldn’t help but feel for the characters. It’s a painful story of a fractured mother-daughter relationship, of the ways culture or family can confine you, of mental health and addiction and toxic people, and of how a home is more than just a physical place.
The Direction of the Wind is a heart-wrenching and impactful novel that will ignite your feelings and inspire thoughtful discussions. It’s a stunning sophomore novel by Mansi Shah, and I look forward to reading her first book, The Taste of Ginger, as well as any future books she publishes.
Get the Book
You can buy The Direction of the Wind here – it’s available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.
|The Direction of the Wind by Mansi Shah|
|Setting||Ahmedabad, India; Paris, France|
|Number of Pages||320|
|Format I Read||ebook (NetGalley)|
|Original Publication Date||February 1, 2023|
A heartfelt story that spans continents and generations, about a young woman who searches for answers about a mother she barely remembers.
Sophie Shah was six when she learned her mother Nita had died. For twenty-two years, she shouldered the burden of that loss. But when her father passes away, Sophie discovers a cache of hidden letters revealing a shattering truth: her mother didn’t die. She left.
Nita Shah had everything most women dreamed of in her hometown of Ahmedabad, India—a loving husband, a doting daughter, financial security—but in her heart, she felt like she was living a lie. Fueled by her creative ambitions, Nita moved to Paris, the artists’ capital of the world—even though it meant leaving her family behind. But once in Paris, Nita’s decision and its consequences would haunt her in ways she never expected.
Now that Sophie knows the truth, she’s determined to find the mother who abandoned her. Sophie jets off to Paris, even though the impulsive trip may risk her impending arranged marriage. In the City of Light, she chases lead after lead that help her piece together a startling portrait of her mother. Though Sophie goes to Paris to find Nita, she may just also discover parts of herself she never knew.
About the Author
Mansi Shah is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. She was born in Toronto, Canada, was raised in the midwestern United States, and studied at universities in America, Australia, and England. When she’s not writing, she’s traveling and exploring different cultures near and far, experimenting on a new culinary creation, or working on her tennis game.
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