Dinner with the Dead

Sami Ullah--lucky, successful and popular Indian call-center executive--goes through life feeling unable to truly connect with people. Something is missing and he longs for a love he cannot name. Compelled by vivid dreams and visions of a beautiful woman, Sami finds the run-down mansion that has haunted his dreams, and sets in motion a series of events that changes his life.

When Sam sets out to renovate the mansion, he runs into inexplicable, outlandish obstacles, the handiwork of a ghost, Kiran, who haunts the old house. She had been his lover in a previous life, and wants to bring him back to her. Her eerie interventions, and the discovery in the house of an enormous cache of diamonds of dubious origin, snowball into a world of trouble for Sam –legal, political, and psychological. Sam’s sanity is questioned, and he faces ruin.

Kiran magically draws Sam out of his sea of troubles, back into their past, when she was a servant and he a prospective royal son-in-law. The past is no respite for the couple, however. They are caught up in the Indian Mutiny, and the machinations of an appalling royal family. Sam and Rahi find a way to save their love beyond time, in a story of bravery and hope that spans 150 years. Melding the past and the present, Shahzad Rizvi captures the immortal beauty of India and the timelessness of love.

Read a review here.

This deeply romantic story defies categorization, combining the rich sensuous detail of a historical novel with supernatural and paranormal elements. Modern India, rife with political corruption, and India in the violent throes of a 19th century revolution are both limned with insight, keen observation, and flashes of humor. Particularly striking are the passages depicting the lives of Indian royalty in the Victorian era, as their tradition of absolute authority comes in fateful conflict with British colonial rule. The monstrous vanity of these Indian rulers, and the near impunity that they enjoyed, shape the narrative of the historical story, and create resonances in the modern era, as greedy politicians and policemen angle for advantage.

The love story at the center of both eras is sustained successfully through the novel, up to the emotionally satisfying conclusion. A wealth of secondary characters, however, is the novel’s greatest strength. From the strutting policeman Tiwari to the thoughtful Prime Minister Nizam Ul Mulk, from the monstrous Princess to the old sage in the tree house, the pages of this novel teem with personalities and incidents that engage and entertain readers. At the same time, the book conveys a wealth of detail about Indian history and culture that will delight history buffs and Indophiles.