The Devil Bangs a Gavel

Erstwhile Sepia blogger and fanatical culture vulture Manish would be so proud! A book by a desi author with a desi protagonist without saris, bindis, mehndi, mangoes, spices, or faux indic fonts on the cover!

chambermaidsmall.jpg

Cast your eyes to the right, my friends. Behold the cover for Chambermaid, by Saira Rao. Kinda boring, no? Eh…we’re a fickle bunch.

So what’s this assimilation sensation about, you ask? Well, I have no idea. The book hits shelves in July and the publicists didn’t send a review copy to the bunker (ahem) but given the pre-launch reviews I’ve spotted, this should be decent beach reading. Especially for all you desi lawyer types reading this site. Especially since Ms. Rao clerked for a Federal Appeals Court Judge in real life.

Quick summary:

Sheila Raj is a recent graduate of a top-ten law school with dreams of working for the ACLU, but law school did not prepare her for the power-hungry sociopath, Judge Helga Friedman, who greets her on her first day. While her beleaguered colleagues begin quitting their jobs, Sheila is assigned to a high-profile death penalty case and suddenly realizes that she has to survive the year as Friedman’s chambermaid — not just her sanity, but actual lives hang in the balance.link

Ooh la la! Le Scandale!!

Will this become the next Prada? Who could this eeevil Judge Friedman possibly be? Where have you heard of Saira Rao before? These, and many more of life’s mysteries, will be answered after the jump. Hello again, my lovelies. Thanks for joining me as I pull on my gumshoes and set off detecting.

To answer the question of whether this will sell, ask yourself if that cover looks familiar. Doesn’t it look like this dishy fictionalized memoir of life in the publishing trenches, working for a raving bitch? Or this tattling tale of nannying for the rich and misbegotten? And there’s the poorly-written, not-nearly-as-delicious-as-it-should-have-been grandmommy of them all.

All the covers are cartoon-ish, use blacks, whites, reds, flat images, and are vaguely retro. Unlike Manish, I’m not touchy about exoticizing covers, but I am afraid that the law of diminishing returns might come into effect and the impending barrage of work-and-tell memoirs will be eventually relegated to the $1 bin.

The Kirkus review was tepid:

The devil wears judicial robes in this unoriginal law clerking expose, penned by a former clerk to an appeals judge…Sheila is unprepared for long work days, harried colleagues and an unreasonable boss. The judge is respected in the legal community for her sharp mind, though she forgets the names of her law clerks on a daily basis and is racially insensitive, calling Sheila Pakistani when she is, in fact, Indian-American. She abuses her adminstrative staff…even cancels lunch hour for her clerks…But there is something that makes Sheila’s job a bit more bearable – a Yale Law grad named Matthew – though each has a long-distance significant other standing flimsily in the way of love.

I’m torn between wanting a good beach read, and being slightly bored by these “racial slights.” Am I insensitive for not caring? And why does the love interest have to be some Ivy-league whiteboard cutout? Why not a cab-driving immigrant architect, or a witty entrepeneur, or even an astronaut-blogger?

What? It could happen… rao.jpg

Uh, yes, question two!! Right here:

According to interweb chatter (always reliable), Rao clerked for Federal Appeals Court Judge Dolores Sloviter in Philly. In the book, idealistic young Columbia Law grad Sheila Raj gets a coveted clerkship in Philly with Federal Appeals Court Judge Helga Friedman. Judge Helga’s a bitch. Fin. link

And you may have come across Saira Rao’s name and or writings before if you’ve been unlucky enough to read Intent Blog. I keed, I keed. My thoughts on Deepak Chopra aside, and based on the two posts I read, she’s an interesting writer with an engaging, intelligent, feminist perspective. Who, um, happens to be at least an eleven on the law-clerk-hot scale.

Given the utter lack of subtance to this post, let’s see if we can come up with something solid in the comments. Anyone clerked for a Helga Friedman (or for Judge Dolores Sloviter)? Is this cover better than the saris and mangoes? Has anyone actually read the book, and if yes, is it any good?

36 thoughts on “The Devil Bangs a Gavel

  1. I’m torn between wanting a good beach read, and being slightly bored by these “racial slights.” Am I insensitive for not caring? And why does the love interest have to be some Ivy-league whiteboard cutout? Why not a cab-driving immigrant architect, or a witty entrepeneur, or even an astronaut-blogger?

    I wouldn’t torture yourself at the beach. The sand entering undergarments thing is bad enough.

    This cover isn’t necessarily better than the usual, tired, pan-Indian ethnic themes. It is nice, however, to have a highly visible warning sign remind you of the dangers of purchasing ultimately unsatisfying books with eye-catching, ethnic identifiers like saris or mangoes.

    not saying this is the case always.

  2. Shelia Raj is a recent graduate of a top ten law school with dreams of working for the ACLU

    Working for the ACLU is a dream?

  3. Shelia Raj is a recent graduate of a top ten law school with dreams of working for the ACLU.

    Anybody care to bet on the proposition that she will eventually pass on ACLU, or leave within two years of joining it ? (Nothing personal here; the bet is based on the number of erstwhile lawyers-in-training one knows who “dreamt of working for the ACLU” but aren’t even close to getting there.)

  4. From her entry on IntentBlog:

    Until recently, I was a lawyer at a large Wall Street law firm, where Facebook was a binder of incoming summer associates, MySpace was one’s office and Livejournal sounded like the software litigators used to expedite document review.

    She forgot to add “Orkut was the sound of our knuckles cracking after a long day typing up contracts, Friend-ster was the prison you sent your buddies to, and MsWord was the pretty young thing that brought us our coffee.”

    If her writing is anything like, well, her writing, I’ll let others do the reading.

  5. Anyone else find the idea of non-college students joining Facebook a little weird? To me, it’s a distinction not unlike being the random old guy holding the wall up at a frat party. That said, Saira is welcome to poke me anytime she likes.

  6. You actually found it! The novel by a brown author without Indic fonts, paisley sari patterns, mehndi or mangoes! Hooray!

  7. Lawyers in the UK , are interesting. Asians have overtaken it almost. But the best part about Law, and I hopw she deals with it, is the sex etc…bit like This Life. It really does happen…Like Peter James Senior Partner in Law Firm Badhams, Plexus, married to one woman, and sleeping his way, all in the line of duty for Plexus, with his secretary Janine, an Indian Male Paralegal, A Pakistanni Litigater..the list goes on. Seriously Asian obsessed. Hell if this book is as half as spicy as these real life cases I’ll buy it…

  8. Working for the ACLU is a dream?

    Yes, but considering how many students from top 10 law schools graduate with nearly $100K of debt, they would be better off schlepping at some BigLaw job they hate, so they can afford to work for the ACLU (or some other similar organization) for next to nothing.

  9. I suggest this title for her next book: Pro Bono. It describes the travails of a multimillionaire lawyer who made her money by winning cases for big corporations having an epiphany one fine day and rediscovering meaning in her life by helping a poor little child soldier from Congo win reparations from Belgium for the repercussions of their colonial actions.

  10. Dude, you totally crack me up…where have you been all this time?

    Thanks. I was busy learning English.

    I suggest this title for her next book: Pro Bono. It describes the travails of a multimillionaire lawyer who made her money by winning cases for big corporations having an epiphany one fine day and rediscovering meaning in her life by helping a poor little child soldier from Congo win reparations from Belgium for the repercussions of their colonial actions.

    Oh, I forgot the blurb for this book.

    As she struggles with the huge change from SoHo to Sudan, she’s helped by an idealistic, young local man named Olonga. Soon, they form an unlikely bond. But, will Gucci go with genocide? Will Manolos win over the Masais? And, in the most important fight of her life, will a black man be accepted by the Balasubramiams?

  11. I suggest this title for her next book: Pro Bono. It describes the travails of a multimillionaire lawyer who made her money by winning cases for big corporations having an epiphany one fine day and rediscovering meaning in her life by helping a poor little child soldier from Congo win reparations from Belgium for the repercussions of their colonial actions.

    It’s a great idea. The novel has to end with her adopting the child soldier, who had previously massacred hundreds of prisoners whilst chewing opium non stop for three months, as well as hacking off the limbs of other child soldiers. But he is rehabilitated by the love of the lawyer, as well as getting a bicycle and ice-cream for his birthday.

  12. And, in the most important fight of her life, will a black man be accepted by the Balasubramiams?

    Oh, he’s a grown man? The adoption of a child soldier would project Angelina Jolie aura and corner the market for African baby adoption fantasists in the reading market.

    Add some spices with mystical powers and an arranged marriage dilemma and we’re talking massacre at the bookstore for all other novels released at the same time.

  13. Red Snapper, you have me sold. But massacre at the bookstores? I am already thinking ahead to the movie! Aishwarya Rai batting her eyelids under the tutelage of Mira Nair? Although Harvey could “adapt” my novel for Legally Blonde 3 with that sexy seduct-Reese.

  14. We’re talking triple or quadruple Oscars and a couple of BAFTAs at least Rahul. Let’s do the deal. I think Aishwarya will be too busy making rotis for her mother-in-law for the next ten years at least. I’m thinking Parminder Nagra. Or even Angelina Jolie for craps sake. How’s she going to be able to resist playing a Hindoo? Who saves Africans from multinational corporations? For God’s sake stop talking, get the deal done.

    Someone get Norah Jones and Nitin Sawhney to do a sad but ultimately uplifting song for the final credits too.

  15. Yeah I know Harbeer, I was just making a joke about stereotypical cover art :) Have you read Intimacy? I fell asleep reading it, was so boring.

  16. I’ve read it. It’s an entertaining, clever book — probably won’t make Manish’s best all-time literature list, boring cover notwithstanding, but Saira writes well and it’s a fun read. Definitely for the beach, not one of Amardeep’s literature courses. ;) But for that, it’s rilly rilly worth it, actually.

  17. Someone get Norah Jones and Nitin Sawhney to do a sad but ultimately uplifting song for the final credits too. Considering all that third-world-uplifting-biz, shouldn’t you guys be pro Bono?

  18. shouldn’t you guys be pro Bono?

    pun intended?

    Also, not sure Norah really identifies with the third world. Alas, she and Nitin Sawhney could probably do some awesome melancholy together :)

  19. pun intended?

    But of course. Lending a helping hand to Capt. Threadjack to steer this thread off-road. FRIDAY.

  20. As a brown girl halfway through her law degree…I have to shamefully admit that I’m intrigued!

    The Chief Justice where I live is female as well…I think if I added a few sheep into the mix I might be able to wrangle a local version of Ms Rao’s tale to help pay off my student loan.

    Then, judging by where her own book is destined, cough $1 bin cough, maybe…not.

    It’s obvious she’s trying to resurrect her dream of rejecting law school and enrolling in some creative writing program, and good for her, but I think I’ll just get back to a real novel featuring another cantankerous judge (which I’m reading way too late) The Inheritance of Loss.

    Two young girls, two bitchy judges…oh, what world of difference talent makes.

  21. Proof that Indian Novel covers are changing, so chamber maid is not unique

    Nila Noor – The Blue Light

    R. S. S. Dhillon

    Bester Preis EUR 10,95 oder neu EUR 11,15

  22. Hey pied piper,

    I just finished reading Inheritance (I’m an English major, had a heap to read beforehand for courses, don’t judge) and I have to say I’m with you there for appreciating the beauty of Ms Desai’s writing…to think I didn’t make it through her first novel because of laziness, for shame!

    Bit bummed that it was 300 words culled from 1500 though, I’m sure the extra plot lines involved Saeed Saeed who was actually one of my favourite characters.

    I would like to be a Japanese-American book critic, but it looks like you’d have to be a middle aged white man to be able to BECOME Michiko Kakatuni, so a brown girl living at the edge of the world I shall remain ;) Great link though.

  23. 33 · pied piper on June 2, 2007 09:40 PM · Direct link Tash — Ouch! It happens that Inheritance just might be my favorite book of all time, but you just might secretly be Michiko Kakutani, I think…. Busted! ;)

    That McSweeney’s essay is just hilarious! I’ve read it like 5 times in the last couple of days, and still bust out laughing every time.