Second-novelist Sethi (The Bride Wore Red, 1996) assembles the portrait of an Indian family from several generations and as many continents as they attempt to maintain some semblance of their identity.
Gulab and Harbachan Gill were Punjabi Sikhs who had the bad luck to live directly astride what became the border between India and Pakistan in 1947. In order to escape the bloody civil war that followed, they pulled up stakes and moved to New Delhi, where Harbachan worked for the Indian government as an engineer while Gulab organized a new home for the family. As their four children grew up, each of them moved abroad. Their son Hari moved to New York and took a job with a pharmaceutical company, while their three daughters (Jeety, Harwinder, and Baby) settled in the Middle East, Africa, and England. Much of the tale is narrated by Gulab (“Biji”) Gill, who looks on the careers and families of her children and grandchildren with the finicky disdain of an old woman who has never quite got used to the new circumstances of her life. Her daughter Harwinder, for example, married a Kenyan businessman of whom Biji disapproved—and Harwinder’s daughter Kunti years later went a step further by moving to America and giving birth to the illegitimate son of an unemployed African! Her son Hari then gave up his promising job with the Ortho Corporation and moved to California—to open a muffler shop! Hari’s daughter Rosa offers a very different perspective in her chapters. A high-school student born in the US, Rosa sees the world with a teenager’s impatience for the traditions imposed by geography, and (with an Indian father and a German mother) she can’t be contained within any one culture—except the American, which turns out to be a mix of everything.
A genial account of how people’s lives cross and combine to create cultures: one of the best multicultural sagas to come along in a long while.