Tag Archives: Dysfunctionality

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners

Title: America for Beginners
Author: Leah Franqui
Publisher: William Morrow, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0062668752
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Now, I have read a lot of books about immigrants and their lifestyles and what happens when you move countries or come to America, as they say. But this is not a story of an immigrant. In fact, it is just a story of a mother who has to come to terms with her son’s sexual preference and lifestyle, after his death. This struck a chord. It hit home and stayed there for a while. I was constantly thinking of my mother and what was she going through when I came out to her and could relate her thoughts and emotions to that of Pival’s. But “America for Beginners” is not just Pival’s story. It is the story of Pival, Satya and Rebecca – each trying to find something or the other – some big meaning in their lives and happen to do it together.

“America for Beginners” is not sentimental. It is for sure an emotional piece of work. It is also compassionate and funny where it needs to be and that is also something I found extremely liberating about the writing. It doesn’t get bogged down by the intensity of the story. Franqui finds humour where she can. A Bengali widow Pival comes to the US of A, to know more about her son Rahi, after a year of his coming out, and in the wake of his death. She has never travelled alone and all she wants is to fit the missing pieces of her son’s life – the son she never knew, also through his partner Jake (you will get to read more about him. Not saying a word for now). Here but obviously she meets Satya, a guide who has never left the five boroughs – an immigrant who doesn’t have a clue where life is headed. Then there is Rebecca – an aspiring young actress with demons of her own to tackle. These three are headed for a road-trip (that again makes it all the more fun) they will remember forever.

This has all the makings of a movie. In fact, I think it is also written to be made into a film. Having said that, I for one did not get bored or did not face a reading slump at all when reading this book. There are also some stereotypes the book is ridden with, and yet I did not have a problem with that as well. There are perspectives, lives, emotions and how we deal with each other as human beings which is most important – than just being a mother, friend, or son.

 

 

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Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant Title: Number One Chinese Restaurant
Author: Lillian Li
Publisher:Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250141293
Genre: Literary Fiction,
Pages:304
Source ​:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

A dysfunctional family to the core and their story set against the backdrop of a Chinese restaurant, which of course belongs to them. Nothing in this genre could get better. I couldn’t wait to read this book and now I know why. It is the book that has the right amount of funny and tragedy with so much going on with various people. At times, it was difficult to keep track even, but once you get to know the characters (as it would happen in every book, except those written by Tolstoy), the reading becomes easier to tackle.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” refers to The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland. The one place to go to for hunger pangs and celebrations of any kind. It is world in its own, surrounded by its own people with their problems – be it from waiters, to kitchen staff who love and hate in equal measure to the owner and his family (quite an extended one at that) – a world that has been stable for some time till disaster strikes and people’s lives go awry.

I have always been skeptical of multiple-narration in books. Different voices kind of throw me off the story but surprisingly this did not happen with this book. It felt easy to read it. The beauty of such books (at least to me) is that one can empathize with almost everyone. To me the angst and pain of Jimmy to Annie (Jimmy’s niece) who wants to go back to the past when her dad was around and a young love story that had me hooting and not at the same time.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” is a heady read of parents and children, youth and aging and above all of what it means to be family and how far are we willing to go to give it all up.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0735213180
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

What would you do if you knew the day of your death? How would you live your life differently, or would you? What do you think it would be like for you? Also, what would it be if each of your siblings also knew the day of their death? Would your relationships be any different? How would life then play out? These questions and more haunted me as I was reading, “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin.

“The Immortalists” might seem like that one book which you read a while ago but it isn’t. There is so much and more to the book that you cannot compare it with anything you’ve read before, so I suggest you don’t even try and read it with an open-mind at the very best.

The story starts off in New York in 1969, when we meet the Gold children – Varya 13, Daniel 11, Klara 9 and Simon who is 7 years old. They belong to a religious Jewish family and are close to their parents. A psychic is heard of by one of the children – someone who has set camp nearby and four of them head out to meet her, who is known to predict the date of someone’s death. She individually tells them each the day they will die. This is where the story begins.

The novel is divided into four sections, each for one child, and we traverse through their lives, trying to understand what happens to each of them as they live and whether or not the prediction comes true.

I am not going to give away any spoilers here but all I can say is that this book has the power to leave you stunned and asking for more answers. Who was the psychic? What happens? What does not happen and why? All of this makes you turn the pages anyway but Benjamin’s writing does not seem new. She doesn’t write like a debut novelist. The craft is so precise – every scene comes alive; every emotion wrenches you and you can’t help but mull over it.

The dynamics of the siblings with each other and their mother is another thing that will make you relate to the book to a very large extent. Also, what they choose to share with each other and don’t forms such a major part of the book. What I also loved was the role time plays this book – with it hanging so severely on their heads and yet it is in a way so subtle – moving at its own pace and making the siblings realize the value or life or not.

“The Immortalists” is the kind of book which will have you thinking about life, more and everything in between. This book is hard to put down once you start it. Benjamin will literally make you cry (be prepared for it) and smile almost in the same page. It is a book which truly deserves all accolades and more this year. Read it. You will not be disappointed.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere Title: Little Fires Everywhere
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-1408709726
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew exactly what I was getting into as I started reading “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng. I had read her first book two years ago called “Everything I Never Told You” and couldn’t wait to start her new one. I can for sure say that I enjoyed “Little Fires Everywhere” a lot more (sorry for that Celeste, though I also enjoyed your debut novel a lot as well). The prose, the description and more than that how life in America is when it comes to consumerism and parenthood at some point mingling together is brilliantly depicted in this novel of dysfunctional families, twisted minds and family ties.

“Little Fires Everywhere” begins with a house burnt down in a closely tight-knit planned community where nothing of this sort would be dreamed of happening by its residents. The idea of well-gated community called Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997 says a lot about the Utopia and unwelcome change and how all if it disrupts the Richardson family’s seemingly happy life, when Mia (a charismatic artist) and her shy fifteen-year old daughter Pearl, move to the town as tenants in the house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents.

This triggers events – mainly the differences in their lifestyles and also what is the attitude of the Richardsons when old family friends on theirs decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby – that would one day lead to the Richardson’s own house burning. I am not giving away anything, don’t worry, but all I can say is that this book kept me up longer than I intended those two nights it took me to finish it.

Celeste Ng has this amazing quality of going easy on the reader mostly and then out of nowhere, she shows you the cracks in relationships, the changes as people interact with each other and how explosive it all is under a calm surface. I loved the writing. It is fast and yet bringing out the details of every character – the Richardson family (mother, father and four teenage children), Mia and Pearl (who I loved as the book moved along) and also the other couple – every detail, every sentence is in place when it comes to “Little Fires Everywhere”. The title is so layered – depicting the fires within and the ones that we see. The ones we also feel but deny and move along in life. If you have to read one book this October (while there is still time), make it this one.

 

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob Title: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
Author: Mira Jacob
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9789384052706
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 512
Source: Publicist
Rating: 5/5

The past is beautiful and also has the power to be vicious. For it to rear its ugly head and not let go, till the demons have been put to rest. As a reader, I see this theme occurring again and again in books. I think that one cannot ignore it in any art form. The past is a strong element of nature that will not be ignored at all and it will be repeated again and again, just as it plays a central and vociferous role in Mira Jacob’s book, “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing”.

“The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing” is a story of a dysfunctional family, of old ties, of relationships that cannot be forgotten and which honestly, is nothing new in the world of literature. What is new though is the way it is said. The narration is so strong that it made me feel that I was reading a book of a different nature and plot. As it happens in all family stories – this one also has a lot of grandeur, a lot of mess, a lot of fleeting and unsaid emotions, and a lot of past, present and future that tangles itself and slowly unravels the plot.

At the heart of this book is the Eapen family. The novel opens in Seattle where Amina Eapen gets a call from her mother, Kamala in Albuquerque, saying that something is wrong with her surgeon father, Thomas, who is now talking to family members who are no longer alive. This is where Amina flies down to check on her father and the story begins – back and forth between India and America and New Mexico and the Eapen family’s secrets and despair and love and longing are unravelled, chapter by chapter. There is a lot happening in the book and maybe that is what makes it so special, also not to forget that it keeps coming back to the core of the plot.

The family is just like any other family and yet it is not what it seems. As you turn the pages, you are stunned by the language, the tenderness and harshness of prose at the same time, the starkness and as a reader; I was only happy that it was a big read and not cut down. Every character has his or her part etched beautifully. No one is out of place. From Amina dealing with her issues and identity looming large to her brother Akhil who is struggling with his own demons. There is also a lot of humour infused in the book – dry as it may be but it definitely helps the reader get through the complex parts.

Jacob in a very tragic-comic manner talks of an Indian family in America and their past linked to their future. The journey from India to America in search of a better life and the consequences of it, are described in great detailed and told with great empathy. The book is honest and that is most needed out of any book. There are no frills or pretensions around it. There is a lot of food in it as well. There is a lot of drama. There is a lot of love and there are sentences and dialogues which are stunning and will leave you begging for more.

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