An immigrant’s thoughtful account of what it means to make a new life in a strange land, in this case the South.
Singh, an immigrant from northern India who found his way to Charlottesville, Virginia, is the definition of aspirational—but also, as he writes, because he is armed with intelligence, ambition, and a master’s degree, a touch on the arrogant side. Any superiority he may have felt disappeared when he put on a pair of khakis and a button-down shirt and went to work at the one job he could find, selling cellphones and other electronics in a strip mall. “I got the feeling that my resume didn’t look familiar to most hiring managers,” he writes, “so they buried it at the bottom of the pile.” Still, despairing of ever finding work suited to his talents, he took the gig—and, because he’s motivated and smart, rose up to become “an asset to the company.” Singh wears his pride lightly, and for the most part here, he plays the role of the not-quite-dispassionate but ever watchful observer, learning things about American mores and customs along the way—don’t ever call a black person by the N-word, eat pizza with your hands—but also seeing deeper oddities in a land where many citizens have been to jail, where adults cling to childish, grasping ways, and mothers and daughters wear matching outfits that are too young for the one and too old for the other. Singh is something of an Indian success story after a year on the sales floor, but, he reminds his readers, not all Indians are ipso facto successes: true, Indian immigrants tend to fare well in this country, but “there are Indians who mop the floor and clean the toilets and struggle to pay the rent.”
An interesting look at a puzzling society—ours—from the point of view of a sympathetic but not uncritical outsider. Good reading for students of comparative cultures.