Pardesi: Children of the Revolution

Guest post by Linda Shaji-Pauline:

Linda Shaji-Pauline, a fellow feminist and a rice lover, who had an affinity for post-colonial literature but now realises that there is much more to read as well. When she’s not at work, her motto is, “will walk for food.” You can often find her walking around all over the city in search of that new restaurant. She is still undecided if she loves music or books more but agrees that together they make the best combination. Together they make her life in finance very tolerable.


I love debuts, and why not? There is a new author / musician / composer / actor whose art is to be explored by their audience.
Dinaw Mengestu’s 2007 book, Children of the Revolution, captured my attention in a second hand book sale for not just being a debut but also for being written by an immigrant writer. Dinaw Mengestu is Ethiopian-American. This was the first book that I was reading that had a connection to Ethiopia. I do not consider it Ethiopian in nature, it is still American.
Written in a first person narrative, the story is that of Sepha Stephanos who left Ethiopia as a refugee simply seeking survival in America. He does not bring along with him the great American dream, he simply wants to be invisible enough to survive. Sepha survives on his meagre income earned by running his simple grocery / general store. It is not the best store in the neighbourhood as he frankly attests.

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Pardesi: The Big Banana

Honduras!

What do I know about the country?
Next to nothing!

Which is why I lapped up onto the suggestion when a colleague mentioned about how she has books by a Honduran author.

The Big Banana by Roberto Quesado has a protagonist named Eduardo Lin, who comes to New York City to become an actor along with a parallel story of Mirian, in Honduras, who has a Cold War spy obsession which culminates in her obsession with the character of James Bond.

While in New York, Eduardo lives in a rented house along with other immigrants who each have their own stories and reasons for being there. Back in Honduras, Mirian’s obsession goes out of control and she regularly visits a psychiatrist, who takes Eduardo’s helps to fix this obsession when he had been in Honduras. With this, Mirian and Eduardo, becomes long distant lovers.

And that brings me to the opening scene of The Big Banana where Eduardo is busy cursing the New York Telephone that regularly sends him huge bills to pay.

Intrigued? Read more!

Pardesi Series!

Immigration may be a buzz word in recent times worldwide. But it is an act that has been going on throughout the world through times immemorial; and that it is used as a political tool to create disharmony is detestable. This is because for one it diminishes the humanity of the issue and then it erodes the idea that sometimes it maybe forced and beyond an individual’s control. Hence, at times, politics is what leads to immigration and yet politics is also deterring it and creating this false sense of danger around it.

To keep politics aside, immigration has several repercussions for the person as well as the place to which the person immigrated to. It could be in terms of language, the food, the issue of assimilation and acculturation; or feeling ostracised, and even feelings of extreme loneliness among many others. It could help a place to know more about different cultures, its food and language and other aspects as well.

To commemorate this loss and gain, The Book Cafe is going to start a series called, Pardesi, which will highlight books that talk about immigrant experiences.

Pardesi in Hindi means “someone who has gone outside of their country to live.”

Pardes in Hindi would mean “a foreign place.”

How can you contribute?

  1. Read and Share:
    Find the link for all the posts in this series here!
  2. If you would want to talk about or do a guest post on any novel or story or poem or play that have immigration as a theme, let us know! Contact: akisabookworm@gmail.com
  3. Or if guest posts are not your thing, you could simply give recommendations for books you thought best captured the immigration experience.

 

Pardesi: The Namesake and Leaving India

Despite the US and UK tightening their grip on immigration, the ‘foreign’ dream will perhaps never go out of fashion for the Indians. Immigration-whether forced or voluntary- explains the history of the Indian diaspora to a large extent. There is a reason embedded in history which explains why Indians are found in such a large number in South Africa or Fiji, where there has often been a lot of violence between the native Fijians and the Indians, and other places.

Literature, whether Indian or otherwise, has brilliantly captured (as it always does) the emotional, nostalgic and human elements involved in the process of immigration that goes beyond the numbers and figures that ministries and studies on this subject routinely throw at us.

Let’s take a quick look at two Indian authored books which provide varying perspectives about the idea of immigration and its implication on the people who embark on that journey:

1)  Title: Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents

Author: Minal Hajratwala

Thoughts: Though it a non-fiction book which chronicles precisely what the title says, Hajratwala has wonderfully spun this tale of her own family’s (both maternal and paternal) forays into the different countries such that the book appears like history book narrating not the stories of great kings and queens, but rather a fateful story of an ordinary Indian family whose destinies were shaped by forces beyond them (such as the emergence of the indentured labour system, the failing art and crafts market in British India, etc). Let not the ‘non-fiction’ tag deter you from immersing yourself into this mesmerizing story because it is skillfully written with a charm and passion that is hard to find in other non fiction books as they tend to be drab and factual. Along the way, you might learn just a little something about the Indian history such as the connections Gandhiji had with South Africa(apart from the fact that he was thrown out of the train) and some such other tidbits which never make into our history textbooks. Minal Hajratwala traces her family history by juxtaposing facts with anecdotes and the former always explain the reasons for her family’s movements and successes across the globe.This helps a lot in understanding as to why Indians in general and her family members in particular migrated when they did.

Leaving India: My Family’s Journey From Five Villages To Five Continents is truly an engrossing read that will take you on an enchanting journey across half the world while still keeping you grounded in your Indian roots.

2)   Title: The Namesake

Author: Jhumpa Lahiri

Thoughts: Jhumpa Lahiri hardly ever gets the fanfare she deserves. Actually, most deserving Indian authors are often lost behind the haze of cliched bestsellers. While we can argue this for an eternity, one thing is clear: that her second book, The Namesake is beauty personified. It is centered around the Gangulis, a Bengali family who move to the US for greener pastures. Ashoke Ganguli, the breadwinner, a student and later a professor and Ashima,(a very apt name for an immigrant as it means one without borders) his wife, have their first son whom they curiously name Gogol, after the not so famous celebrated Russian writer, Nikolai Gogol, which thus further adds to the child’s identity issues: he is caught between his Indian and American identities but his name reflect none of these two as it is of Russian origin. The story gradually progresses with Gogol’s growing up, dealing with identity issues and how his family members, particularly Ashima, deal with being away from home with hardly any relatives surrounding them. The story illuminates the life of the Gangulis as they make their way in an unknown country and gradually come to accept and even love.

The Namesake is a poignant story that tackles issues of homelessness, assimilation, cultural and emotional identities, forging one’s own unique identity in a unique culture, displacement, diaspora, cultural and ideological conflicts, adjustments, generation gaps etc. But Jhumpa Lahiri explores all this with a quite emotional power that will hit you sensitively. There is a delicacy in her writing style that asserts the fragility of human relationships, asserts that they are precarious and can shatter anytime.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories that also deals with similar issues in the same characteristic style which is sensitive and beautiful. Click here to check out my review for this book.

Do you know of any more books that deal with this issue of immigration? Please feel free to share in the comments below!


This post is part of the Pardesi series that highlights immigrant experiences.

You can contribute as well! Click here for more information.

Pardesi: Unaccustomed Earth

For me, Indian fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me within her fictional worlds. I had read Namesake which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. Unaccustomed Earth is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.

Taken from amazon.com

The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different ages, genders,  and spanning across generations. The stories are set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.

In Part One, the first story Unaccustomed Earth is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father.

In the second story, Hell-Heaven, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American.

A Choice Of  Accommodation, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, Only Goodness is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a unique look at a brother-sister relationship.

The last story, Nobody’s Business  is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate  with Americans and who is in love with an Egyptian.

Part Two has three chapters which tell a love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years, yet one that ends in tragedy.

The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness, even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. Unaccustomed Earth provides harsh glimpses into the immigrants’ world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.

Although Unaccustomed Earth is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a clear picture of the characters in their mind (just like in Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the Namesake) It is a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.

One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: Unaccustomed Earth requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who are looking for a happy, rosy read, please don’t bother to read this collection of short stories.

For others who would love to venture beyond the usual and read something thought provoking, might find this book just right!

Happy Reading!


This post is part of the Pardesi series that highlights immigrant experiences.

You can contribute as well! Click here for more information.