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.

Continue reading

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: 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.