Sonali Dev's 'A Distant Heart' Is A Vibrant Romance About Family & Freedom — COVER REVEAL & EXCERPT
On our quest for diverse reads, we are always drawn to stories that combine the new and unknown while still checking all of our book-loving boxes. So, when we heard about Sonali Dev's upcoming novel A Distant Heart, ours did more than just skip a beat. Set in a vibrant country? Check! Heartwrenching backstory? Check! Friendship and romance and the complications therein? Check and check!
Dev's book follows Kimaya, born to her parents in Mumbai as a result of prayer, pilgrimage, and every fertility treatment known to modern medicine. Needless to say, her parents treat her like the miracle she is, and they protect her from anything outside their mansion at the top of Pali Hill in Mumbai. But despite their efforts, she develops a rare form or aplastic anemia that severely compromises her immune system and requires her to be isolated in a Laminar airflow room. Trapped in her ivory tower with nothing more than the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company, she befriends the brilliant boy who shows up to wash her windows.
Rahul Savant was thirteen when his father died in his arms after taking a bullet for Kimi’s politician father. Rahul was left to take care of two younger siblings and his mother. He accepts Kimi’s father’s mentorship on the condition that he works off the charity by being a servant in his home. As he struggles to take care of his family in his poverty-ridden, crime-ridden neighborhood he loses his beloved younger sister to illness and learns that blocking out his emotions is the only way to survive loss. But his friendship with Kimi is something he can restrict to the few hours he spends with her across the plastic curtain of her isolation room.
As the years go by Rahul and Kimi develop a unique and deep friendship. He becomes her eyes to the outside world and she becomes his refuge. When Kimi is given a new lease on life via a life-saving procedure, she and Rahul must navigate their undeniable attraction, complicated family dynamics, and a web of lies that cut too close to home to learn the real meaning of courage, loss and love.
Alright, enough talk. Let's take a look at the insanely gorgeous cover, shall we?
Of the cover Dev says, ""I’ve loved the covers of all my books....I feel like each cover has been deeply relevant to the book. But A Distant Heart, isn’t a story of cultural conflict. It’s my first book that’s set entirely in India and yet I feel like it’s thematically the most universal. What I wanted in this cover was the lightness of dreaming, the brightness of hope, with a tad bit of yearning for freedom thrown in. The artist nailed it, don’t you think?"
If the cover and synopsis wasn't enough to hook you, keep reading for an excerpt from the book below! Though you'll have to wait until December 26, 2017 for the book's release, you can start falling in love with the characters right now.
Kimi: Present Day
Freedom was a beautiful thing! Mumbai in all its grimy, gray, pre-monsoon glory flew past Kimi as her auto-rickshaw sped between cars and pedestrians with the zeal of a bastard child born of a Diwali rocket and an immortal god. She almost asked the driver to slow down, but with the wind whipping her ponytail and the driver's mop of curls in a joint symphony she felt as recklessly brave as the whirring vehicle racing along on its three wheels.
Emblazoned across the dashboard of the rickshaw was the goddess Durga dancing on the corpse of a demon like the evil-hunting badass she was. Bowing to her was Bollywood’s favorite superhero, Krish, with his muscles bulging like fat rubber balls and his hair coiffed high. In a perfect background score to her life's drama, the techno-beat-laden remix of an old Bollywood number drowned out the cacophony of horns the driver left in his wake.
The combination was delicious and exactly worthy of what she had just done. What she was about to do.
You know who else was badass? Kimaya Kirit Patil, that's who.
There had been one hundred and twelve instances over twelve years when each breath had been a fight and her limbs had turned to mist. She had fought. Not like a warrior, because that would involve the use of said limbs, but like someone drowning, where all you could do is keep the water out of your nose, so it wouldn't keep the air from your lungs. Breathe out. Breathe out. She had followed those breaths. Grabbed on to those thin wisps of air like lifelines and made herself live one grip at a time.
Then the cure she had waited twelve years for in a sterile room had come. A heart had become available. Surely that meant something. Someone had died, after all, so she might live. Someone with the exact kind of blood and plasma that would let a foreign heart beat within her chest with the confidence of an indigene. Surely that meant she could now have what she never thought she would—all that she had gazed upon from the windows of her room, sealed tight with every technology known to man, so no germ, no pathogen would dare venture into her world, let alone an entire human being. Except Rahul—he had ventured. And then gone on venturing until he was all the way inside.
Except she hadn’t considered the most important part of her plan: him. She had returned from Hong Kong with her new heart and he had looked at her with those dark-tar eyes turned even darker by all that emotion when she ran to him.
He'd helped her understand calculus and the nuanced stories of Premchand. He had known how atoms split, why Europe went to war twice within half a century, and the why and when of each invention that transformed the history of civilization. He had touched her, despite promises he'd made. Because it was exactly what she had needed. His gloved hand in hers. He had given her anything she had asked for when everyone else had been too afraid. And she had known that if she lived, if her parents got what they had sealed her in a room twelve years for—a daughter who lived—she would spend the rest of that life taking care of him. The way he had taken care of her.
Except she hadn’t considered the most important part of her plan: him. She had returned from Hong Kong with her new heart and he had looked at her with those dark-tar eyes turned even darker by all that emotion when she ran to him. “You’re running,” he had said, as usual choosing the least words to say the most.
“Yes,” she had said, knowing exactly why every single hard-won breath had been worth it. But then she had told him her grand plan: the two of them living happily ever after.
As always she had asked him for what she wanted. What she hadn’t for one moment considered that he didn’t also want.
He had thanked her for the offer to love him forever, and passed on it.
The person who had kept her from being alone when she was locked up in a room had finally shown her what loneliness was when he walked away from her, leaving her alone in the crowded world she had craved for so long.
No one had the right to that kind of power.
She leaned back into the overstuffed vinyl seat of the speeding auto-rickshaw feeling awfully light.
It only made sense that losing a part of yourself would bring lightness.
No. She wasn't doing that. She was not going all morose and doing the Tragic Princess shit anymore. That wasn't her. No matter how people saw her, that was not her. Not anymore.
Actually, it had never been her. Why the hell was she letting herself go down that path now?
She had to stop thinking of life in terms of thoughts she saved up for Rahul like seashells collected on a walk along the beach.
She was past the Rahul-induced sadness. Done with it. He'd made his intentions clear. They were no longer—well, they just weren't anymore. Nothing, anything, they just weren't.
Plato would ask if the fact that they weren't anymore meant they had never been. Or was it Aristotle? You know who would know? The one person who she could not, would not, call for a fact check. This wasn't a Tragic Princess thought, but here it was anyway: She had to stop thinking of life in terms of thoughts she saved up for Rahul like seashells collected on a walk along the beach.
To cut herself some slack, it wasn't easy. For ten years (fourteen, really, but that made her sound really pathetic, and she was cutting the slack so she allowed herself some delusion) . . . for ten years she had collected everything that happened in her head in neat little lists to share with her best friend. Her only friend, as he loved to remind her, the way only he could, without a whit of pride.
Once you're out in the world, everyone's going to want to be your friend, Kimi.
Who said those things to you if they didn't love you? Who?
Who said those things to you and then acted like they didn't mean anything?
Rahul Surajrao Savant. That's who.
But that wasn't true either. Or at least not the whole truth. Which was life, wasn't it? An endless braid of half-truths.
Rahul loved her.
She knew that. He knew that.
It had flashed in his eyes when he had wordlessly begged her to wait until Papa wasn't in the room before discussing their issues. It had flashed in his eyes when he'd heard what Asif Khan had done to her. Her belly cramped when she thought about the bastard. Her transplanted heart would take a while to react to the terror the bastard made her feel. Kimi had recently read in an autobiography by a heart transplant recipient that transplanted hearts had no direct connection to your nervous system. You could sew up the tubes and tissue, but not the nerves. So her brain couldn’t send her heart direct messages and her heartbeat responded to things at its own pace depending on how adrenaline rushed around her body.
Reading that had explained what she had felt since the transplant, what no doctor had warned her about. It was all a bit like a disconnected little dance between her brain and her heart. Like two partners who, try as they might, could not get their rhythms and steps to match up. And there it was, her heartbeat racing moments after she had actually thought about Asif Khan. Or maybe it had to do with her thinking about how Rahul's love flashed in his eyes every single time he looked at her.
...there was no difference between “I love you” and “I'm in love with you.” It was a bullshit distinction. Romantic love was no different from love. Romantic love was just a social definition of what you could do with your love, how intense you could let it become.
She hated it now. Hated it, because how dare he? She made the effort to check her feelings from oozing out of her so she didn't embarrass him with them anymore. The least he could do was make an effort to stop those damn eyes from flashing his half-truths at her. He managed the whole stiffness-and-distance thing with the rest of his body; surely he could rein in his eyes.
No matter what stupid aphorisms movies and books came up with, there was no difference between “I love you” and “I'm in love with you.” It was a bullshit distinction. Romantic love was no different from love. Romantic love was just a social definition of what you could do with your love, how intense you could let it become. It was a scale thing, so civilization and society could go on around all the love we felt for one another without messing up their rules.
If you loved someone, you loved them. To back away from that and hide behind the ins and not ins of love was a coward's way out. She ignored the gut-kick of disloyalty she felt at thinking of Rahul as a coward. Because he wasn't. He was the bravest person she knew.
You're the bravest boy I know.
How many times had she said that to him?
Great, here she was again, going around and around in circles.
This was why she'd had to walk away, make a clean break. At least for a short while to begin with, then she’d work the rest of it out.
How did you work out how to stop carrying around a friendship that was all of you? All your innocence and hope, every happy memory you owned. The brave thing to do would be to let it go forever. To start from scratch, because more happy memories would come, more friendships would come. They had to. But she wasn’t brave enough to think about that right now. Her bravery was engaged elsewhere, thank you very much.
Courage wasn't only fighting your circumstances; sometimes making peace with your circumstances required more courage. It was one of Mamma's more hypocritical aphorisms. Another gut-kick of guilt hit her for thinking that way about Mamma.
The fact that she loved him had more to do with her than him. She could love like that. Therefore, she would love like that.
It was time Rahul realized that he had to let her go. Completely. She couldn’t do this half-assed thing because he needed to believe that he wasn't in love with her.
He was right about one thing. The fact that she loved him had more to do with her than him. She could love like that. Therefore, she would love like that. If not him, then someone else. There was a lot of living to be done—twelve years’ worth of it—and as she discovered life and herself, she would discover love again with the right person this time. A person who was in love with her too. Enough that he wanted to admit it.
The first step was this. This break. This decision to finally claim her freedom. For all the years that Rahul and she had waited for the cure that would set her free—they had called it The Great Escape (after a movie they had watched an embarrassing number of times. Okay, eight times. They’d watched that movie eight times.) In the end her transplant had turned out to be The Great Escape, but instead of setting her free it had tied them up in other ways.
Now this would be the real Great Escape: spending two weeks without The Usual Suspects who had defined her life and lived it for her. Finding out what that bastard Asif Khan had meant when he ripped the buttons of her shirt on a crowded street and traced her scar with his crusty fingers and bloodshot eyes, and asked where her heart had come from.
Why don't you ask your daddy? he had said when she hadn't had an answer.
Papa had no intention of telling her the truth, and Rahul had no intention of helping her find the truth. The only truth those two understood was protecting her. If she understood anything at all, she understood that she had to live without their protection now that she had a choice. And she could not live with herself without tracing her gift back to the person who had lost it to her. Not after Asif Khan's knowing gaze had told her more truth than anyone in her life ever had.
Maybe she was on the wrong track. Maybe she was heading to the wrong place. She leaned into the rickshaw driver, who seemed entirely lost in the trance of the music and his war on the road. Maybe where she needed to go instead was to see Asif Khan. Yes, he was in a coma, but she understood illness and how the world around you influenced what you were able to make your body do, even as you had no control over it. Maybe all Asif Khan needed to wake up from his coma was her going to see him and giving him a reason to wake up.
It wasn't like she could just walk up to the creep. The entire Mumbai police force was probably holding hands and standing around his bed with Rahul inspecting their interlaced hands at regular intervals.
This case had changed Rahul. If she were stupid enough to blame external causes for things, she would have blamed Asif Khan and Jennifer Joshi for losing Rahul. Asif had killed Dr. Jennifer Joshi because she had been digging around his racket of killing people for their organs and illegally selling them overseas. The doctor had been trying to stop a heinous crime, trying to help Rahul, so blaming her made Kimi feel like the worst kind of human being.
Even so, she refused to let herself feel admiration for the woman. She refused to feel like a terrible person for how she felt every time she thought about that day when she had walked in on Rahul with her.
Jen was not the love of my life.
How dare he say those words to her?
How. Dare. He.
And how dare she let it hurt so much.
It felt like hot embers in her chest. It felt like they’d removed her heart again and put burning pieces of coal in its place. That’s how it had felt when she had first heard him talk about Jen. But she had ignored it as silliness. She had lectured herself about learning to deal with sharing him with the world once The Great Escape happened.
She needed to stop calling it that.
She needed to stop using all the terms Rahul came up with. But what would that leave her with? No language to reference anything.
Her entire life, all she'd done was change her plans because of things outside of her control. Nothing was changing her mind this time.
That ball of panic filling her belly wasn’t real. It was no longer real. He was no longer her window to the world. She was now inside her own world, and she intended for it to stay that way.
She had already made up her mind where she wanted to go. Her entire life, all she'd done was change her plans because of things outside of her control. Nothing was changing her mind this time. Waiting for Asif Khan to wake up and answer her questions was a coward’s way out. She was going to track her donor down on her own.
Settling back into her seat, she watched the world jerk and flash by as the auto-rickshaw tore through the traffic-clogged streets as though it were invincible—a perfect metaphor for how she was going to live her life now that death no longer loomed at every corner.