A mostly entertaining, sometimes thoughtful, but not terribly demanding Indian beach read.

THE INVITATION

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. 

Pub Date: May 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08160-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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