MANHATTAN MUSIC by Meena Alexander


Email this review


 Examining the Indian diaspora, Alexander (Nampally Road, 1990; a memoir, Fault Lines, 1993; etc.) focuses on one woman's attempt at American assimilation while holding onto her native identity. The story opens with Sandhya Rosenblum sitting in Central Park, culturally adrift. Having married Stephen, a New Yorker whom she met while he was vacationing in her native India five years ago, Sandhya now finds herself living in Manhattan with her husband and their small daughter, Dora, but feeling directionless, with seemingly nothing to do with her life. Stephen, who's barely fleshed out here, was apparently fascinated by the lives of European explorers, and in a sense he has brought Sandhya back as he would a rare and exotic spice. Amid the framework of the plot the Gulf War breaks out, Islamic fanaticism takes clandestine root in New York, and Rajiv Ghandi is assassinated. The cultural backdrop of turmoil seems intended to give consequence and context to Sandhya's plight, but she too is unable to escape one- dimensionality, so much so that the ensuing affair she has with Rashid, a dashing Egyptian scholar, and her suicide attempt following his subsequent rejection add little weight to the story. Also on hand are Sandhya's cousin Jay, a photographer currently living in New York, her other cousins Sakhi and Ravi, now tasting suburban American life in New Brunswick, and Jay's friend Draupadi, a performance artist whose work explores her societal role as the daughter of immigrants. Their tales help to build a resonance of complementary ideas, but however clear and compelling Alexander's general intentions may be, her framework is so highly anecdotal that remain distant and abstract. In the end, at an Indian festival attended by all the characters, it seems at last as if Sandhya may be growing into an independent woman. But too much of her journey has been hidden from view. Lively passages and provocative ideas, but sketchy characters: a near-miss.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-56279-092-7
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997