The Heart Is a Shifting Sea
Love and Marriage in Mumbai
Winner of the Silver Nautilus Award for Journalism & Investigative Reporting
"Elizabeth Flock takes us on an intimate cruise on the shifting sea of the heart, in the best book set in Bombay that I've read in years. Flock's total access to her characters, and her highly sympathetic and nonjudgmental gaze, prove that love and literature know no borders. Easily the most intimate account of India that I've read, and of value to anybody that believes in love and marriage."—Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City
"This remarkable debut is so deeply reported, elegantly written, and profoundly transporting that it reads like a novel you can’t put down. It’s both a nuanced and intimate evocation of Indian culture, and a provocative and exciting meditation on marriage itself."—Katie Roiphe, author of The Violet Hour
In the vein of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, an intimate, deeply reported and revelatory examination of love, marriage, and the state of modern India—as witnessed through the lives of three very different couples in today’s Mumbai.
In twenty-first-century India, tradition is colliding with Western culture, a clash that touches the lives of everyday Indians from the wealthiest to the poorest. While ethnicity, class, and religion are influencing the nation’s development, so too are pop culture and technology—an uneasy fusion whose impact is most evident in the institution of marriage.
The Heart Is a Shifting Sea introduces three couples whose relationships illuminate these sweeping cultural shifts in dramatic ways: Veer and Maya, a forward-thinking professional couple whose union is tested by Maya’s desire for independence; Shahzad and Sabeena, whose desperation for a child becomes entwined with the changing face of Islam; and Ashok and Parvati, whose arranged marriage, made possible by an online matchmaker, blossoms into true love. Though these three middle-class couples are at different stages in their lives and come from diverse religious backgrounds, their stories build on one another to present a layered, nuanced, and fascinating mosaic of the universal challenges, possibilities, and promise of matrimony in its present state.
Elizabeth Flock has observed the evolving state of India from inside Mumbai, its largest metropolis. She spent close to a decade getting to know these couples—listening to their stories and living in their homes, where she was privy to countless moments of marital joy, inevitable frustration, dramatic upheaval, and whispered confessions and secrets. The result is a phenomenal feat of reportage that is both an enthralling portrait of a nation in the midst of transition and an unforgettable look at the universal mysteries of love and marriage that connect us all.
Praise For The Heart Is a Shifting Sea: Love and Marriage in Mumbai…
“The book not only charts the winding course of three marriages in one of the world’s largest and fastest growing metropolises, but also provides a detailed portrayal of a rapidly changing India. Flock’s telling of these six middle-class lives is deeply sympathetic but unsentimental.”
“In The Heart is a Shifting Sea, Flock seeks to understand the evolution of Indian marriage.... What unfolds is a book that truly is impossible to put down.”
— Washington Post
“People come together, grow apart, struggle to hold on to love and family. It’s an old story, of course, but a new book offers an unusually intimate focus in a place where tradition is colliding with 21st century global culture, Mumbai, India.”
— PBS Newshour
“Among the book’s many strengths, Flock abstains from generalizing about India or Indian marriages. Instead, she nimbly captures the interiority of her subjects.... Although they are imperfect people in imperfect marriages, in these resplendent passages, their humanity shines through.”
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“While this book is a nonfiction look at love, marriage and shifting cultural norms in Mumbai, specifically tracking three married couples through a span of about a decade, it reads like a novel. Thoroughly researched, it’s also haunting and lovely. You’ll find yourself strangely riveted as you follow the lives of each couple.”
— New York Post, “This Week’s Must-Read Books”
“Elizabeth Flock takes us on an intimate cruise on the shifting sea of the heart, in the best book set in Bombay that I’ve read in years. Flock’s total access to her characters, and her highly sympathetic and nonjudgemental gaze, prove that love and literature know no borders. Easily the most intimate account of India that I’ve read, and of value to anybody that believes in love and marriage.”
— Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City
“An intimate portrait of three marriages.... Because Flock goes deep, rather than broad... she makes readers feel as though they are peering through a window into these couples’ lives.... Flock writes about... sensitive topics with generosity and empathy in this beautifully rendered, intricate, and human exploration of love and marriage.”
— Library Journal
“The Heart is a Shifting Sea is an intimate look at life in India, yet its intricately reported, novelistic portraits of marriage will resonate regardless of where you live. This book will keep you up reading deep into the night; it will make you ignore your loved ones, shirk your responsibilities. It is that good.”
— Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex
“The hearts that Flock excavates in forensic detail are not just those of the individuals, but of a country as it reimagines itself.”
“Journalist Flock invites readers into the homes, lives, and marriages of three couples… living in Mumbai in this multifaceted portrait of love and marriage in modern India.... Flock approaches the histories, hopes, dreams, and disappointments of her middle- and upper-middle-class couples as a reporter, not a storyteller, and the book is better for it, steering clear of caricature and sentiment, and letting each of her subjects emerge in the details of his or her own circumstances.... Flock’s book also provides a vivid portrait of a nation in transition.”
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Absorbing, candid.... An eye-opening exploration of how tradition and star-studded dreams shape love in modern India.”
“An impressive feat of reporting.... These three marriages, without the Bollywood polish, offer an unforgettable look at both the risks and rewards of real-life romance.”
“Elizabeth Flock has invented a new way of telling a love story. It’s part journalism, part true fable, and it takes you deep inside a country. Whatever it is, I couldn’t stop reading it.”
— Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting
“This remarkable debut is so deeply reported, elegantly written and profoundly transporting that it reads like a novel you can’t put down. It’s both a nuanced and intimate evocation of Indian culture, and a provocative and exciting meditation on marriage itself.”
— Katie Roiphe, author of The Violet Hour
“For readers who love real-life love stories that are complicated, messy, and ultimately illuminating, then there’s no better book to pick up this winter.”
Harper, 9780062456489, 384pp.
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
About the Author
Elizabeth Flock is a reporter for PBS NewsHour. She began her career at Forbes India magazine, where she spent two years as a features reporter in Mumbai, and has worked for U.S. News & World Report and the Washington Post. She has also written for major outlets, including the New York Times, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Hindustan Times, and The Hindu. She lives in Washington, DC. The Heart Is a Shifting Sea is her first book.