A Bengali widow embarks on a road trip of the U.S. with a Bangladeshi guide and a young American woman.
When Pival Sengupta’s husband dies, leaving her alone in their Kolkata house, what she mainly feels is relief. Ram had been a difficult, angry man who blamed his wife for all his woes. The most difficult of these had to do with their son, who moved to Los Angeles to study marine biology and, before long, called home to come out to his parents. He’s then effectively cut out of their lives. When Ram dies, Pival, who has never left Kolkata, decides to invest in a two-week tour of the United States, ending in LA. She’ll get to know the country her son loved before reconnecting with him—if he’s still alive; he might not be. To help with her trip, Pival enlists the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, which sets her up with Satya, a naïve young Bangladeshi guide who’s always hungry, and, for modesty’s sake, a female companion named Rebecca. The three then set out on a road trip, chock full of all the tacky tourist traps, cultural clashes, and sappy heart-to-hearts you can imagine. This is Franqui’s first novel, and it’s tolerable, if not utterly original. She engages in quite a few road trip–novel clichés as well as greenhorn-in-America stereotypes. Worse, she has a habit of overexplaining her characters’ inner lives. She writes, for example, that “Ram’s authority destroyed Pival’s own sense of herself and replaced it with a version that Ram created.” This had already been clear; it doesn’t need to be spelled out. Still, the book is occasionally charming and occasionally engaging; despite everything, you’ll want to find out what happens in the end.
Clichés and overexplaining get in the way of the humor and genuine sentiment that this novel strains toward.<