Nita and Sophie, mum and daughter, were both raised in a wealthy, sheltered part of Ahmedabad, where women marry whomever their parents choose, and then submit to their husbands and focus on bearing and raising children. Nita always chafed against this, yearning towards an undefined freedom as a painter in Paris, a city she has only dreamed of visiting. She even names her daughter Sophie in an attempt to sound more French. One day, she leaves everything behind and runs away to the City of Light, a country where she doesn’t speak the language or have legal papers to stay and work.
Meanwhile Sophie, who is 6 when Nita leaves, grows up being told her mother has died. She finds the truth after stumbling upon a cache of letters after the death of her father, a gentle person who has given her an almost unprecedented amount of freedom, allowing her to work and not marry. Sophie’s aunts quickly arrange a marriage for her, but she knows she can’t settle into life without finding out what happened to her mother. Like Nita, she flies off in the night to a country where she doesn’t speak the language. Like Nita, she had never left India before.
However, the two face different challenges. Nita finds a cheap hostel and even makes friends of the receptionist and her roommate, but she is constantly struggling to survive. She meets Matthieu, an artist and bouquiniste who sells his work in one of the small stalls that line the Seine. The two of them strike up a relationship, but Matthieu may not ultimately have Nita’s best interests at heart. Sophie also runs afoul of those who pretend to want to help, but she manages to find her way to the same hostel, and meets those who knew her mother 20 years earlier. She also has the advantage of having previous work experience.
The Direction of the Wind is a story about what family gives and doesn’t give to women who want to walk freely in their own choices. While the book could have benefitted from some tighter editing, the plot was moving enough to keep me turning pages into the night. Nita and Sophie are both sympathetic characters, longing for only more choice in a world and culture that has denied them that and left them unprepared for life in the larger world.