With its poetic prose and grand subject matter, Anita Nair’s MISTRESS (BlackAmber, $34.99) is reminiscent of age-old Indian epics such as the Mahabharata. In Nair’s novel, love and history clash when cello-playing travel writer Chris arrives at Near-the-Nila holiday retreat in Kerala to interview famed traditional actor-cum-dancer Koman. There, Chris falls for Koman’s beautiful niece Radha, who in turn is trapped in a loveless marriage to Near-the-Nila’s possessive and scheming owner, Shyam. Nair cleverly compares and contrasts the complex web of deceit that ensues with a series of flashbacks to a youthful dalliance Koman indulged in with Anglo-German artist Angela in 70s London. The result is a sharply observed, character-driven story that uses the lives of small-town people with ambitious dreams as a framework for discussions about big issues like globalisation and autochthony.