After 25 years in the United States, four Indian friends living in California are forced to re-evaluate their lives in this novel about the costs and benefits of assimilation.
Vic, Frances, Jay and Lali, newly arrived from India, met as graduate students at UCLA. But while they may have been lumped together as Indian immigrants, they come from very different regions, religions and socio-economic classes, and those differences have shaped their experiences in America. Vic, from a poor farming community he was desperate to escape, has had the most financial success while remaining the least assimilated. He returned to India for an arranged marriage and is unhappy with how Americanized his wife has become. Now, to celebrate his older son’s graduation from MIT, Vic throws a grand Indian-style party at his Newport Beach home to which he invites Frances, Jay and Lali. Jay comes from an upper class Hindu family and seemed the golden boy in their UCLA circle; Frances, the daughter of middle class Catholics from Goa, felt lucky when they married. But UCLA was their highpoint. Jay has never risen above middle management; Frances struggles as a real estate agent during the economic downturn; and their 11th-grade daughter’s grades have plummeted. If Frances and Jay have chosen to live away from the Indian community in a largely Jewish neighborhood of Sherman Oaks, Lali has gone further afield. Originally from a Jacobite Syrian Christian community in the Indian city of Cochin, Lali now lives in San Francisco with her Jewish doctor husband, who has recently begun exploring his religious roots. Feeling isolated, Lali has drifted into an online flirtation with an Indian lover from her past. Once the friends gather, emotions flare, and secrets come to light. With the possible exception of Vic, these characters’ fallibilities only make them more likeable, particularly Jay and Frances, whose futures Cherian (A Good Indian Wife, 2008) disappointingly leaves the most unsettled.
A mostly entertaining, sometimes thoughtful, but not terribly demanding Indian beach read.