“The Land of Dreams”; “The Land of the Brave and Free” – is that not how most Indians view the United States of America? Added to that is the American way of life that most Indians know about only via TV shows and movies. To most Indians, irrespective of strata, therefore, America has been that aspirational land to which one must look up to. Not surprising, the efforts made to get to that country.
This book, therefore, offers an extremely interesting premise. How is it to make one’s home in the Land of Dreams? The author, Tanushree Ghosh, who has lived and worked in the US for over a decade, brings us this other perspective – that of immigrants who have moved to the US and are living there.
Going by the overall tone of the introduction, I presumed that this was a non-fiction book- but it is not. It is a collection of short stories – of lives of different people and how they go about the various challenges, relationships in their lives.
The book starts off with a chapter at the airport, where she looks at the travellers. All of them have reached US and are going to, perhaps, the same town; but are from different strata and parts of India. Some are nervous, some excited. Her idea of introducing all the characters in the beginning – at least their names – and then delve into each of their lives, one by one, in subsequent stories is clever. However, as a reader, I found the execution of the same confusing- there are too many names mentioned and that too passingly as the characters get through the formalities of immigration.
The individual stories, however, are extremely interesting. The characters, she introduces, are relatable. As an observer, she dwells upon the dynamics of her characters – be it their old relationships with people back home and their home country and their newly-formed ones in the US and their equation and feelings for this strange country they now call home. The stories have underpinnings of humour; irrespective of the grimness that is there in their lives. Introspective and reflective, the stories bring to life the biggest dichotomy an immigrant has to cope with – how to balance the Indian heritage and sensibilities of one’s upbringing with the vastly different American sensibilities. What is normal in one culture may not be perceived as normal in the other. The insecurities, ambitions and aspirations of immigrants are very deftly brought out in this collection of myriad stories.
By this realistic portrayal of what immigration really entails, the author has demolished the rose-tinted view that most people have of life abroad. Life abroad can be lonely and it is this theme of loneliness and also that of human resilience that runs through the book.
I enjoyed reading this book – once I was past the first story. While the device of introducing all of them was indeed very clever, the execution failed to deliver and hold the reader’s interest. The author more than makes up for it in the subsequent individual stories and then in the conclusion where she ties in all the characters. They are all people living in the same town in Phoenix and their lives intersect. That for me, bringing all the characters in the last, and tying up their loose ends per se, worked much more.
However, barring this slight peeve, I did enjoy reading about life in the US – from the perspective of so many different people – a housewife from rural Punjab who is forced to marry her brother-in-law for a visa; a new mother coping with postpartum depression; a young techie who falls in love with an American but fails to understand the the differences in cultural nuances. It is clear that the author has based her characters on real people she has met and interacted with. And precisely this is what works for the book. As she paints their life, with many layers, and explores their personalities, she does not judge them or their frailties. Instead she tries to understand them and their actions and aspirations. The tone throughout is gentle, non-judgemental and laced with humour.
Definitely worth a read!