Written by an author with an impossible last name, In Beautiful Disguises is a novel about a 16-year-old girl, living in a small town in South India. Life isn't exactly easy for the un-named girl, who has a silent mother who carries a shadow of disappointment wherever she went; a drunken, abusive father; a dutiful sister who has been forced to marry an older man; and a brother who is addicted to satellite TV. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that the main character/narrator has some big dreams of her own: she wants to become a movie star, a Bollywood actress, someone with a life like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
When the inevitable arranged marriage looms ahead, the girl decides to escape from the clutches of her family and make her way to The City. There, she begins working as a maid for Mr. Aziz and his crazy French wife, Mrs. Marceau. The other members of the household are just as colourful: Raju, the rebellious cook; Maneka, the maid who disappears at night; Ambika, the old servant who doesn't want anyone to know that she is too weak to do housework; and others. And then there's the magical zoo and the movie theatres and Mrs. Marceau's arrogant son...
The rich cavalcade of characters is perhaps a bit too rich, because all the minor characters are kind of like simple caricatures that just pop up in the story, but don't have complex identities or personalities.
The novel sounds like a typical rags-to-riches story, but it turns out to be less conventional than you might expect at first. It's about personal dreams and fantasies, but also about class hierarchy and independence vs. duty. Like the title implies, it also tells about beautiful disguises and what lies behind those disguises when we take them off. I liked the way the book was written: humorous, but not too light.
Rajeev Balasubramanyam: In Beautiful Disguises. Bloomsbury. 2000. 246 pages.
The Guardian: "In brief: In Beautiful Disguises by Rajeev Balasubramanyam
Wikipedia: Rajeev Balasubramanyam