A promising first novel about the Indian immigration experience deftly avoids the predictable overemphasis on food and culture, and explores instead the universal theme of failed dreams.
Moving between the past and present, the narrator, Rajiv Kothari, like all good storytellers, takes his time to tell how he came to steal the Ambassador—a popular Indian car, not a diplomat. Prompted by the sudden death of his father Vasant from a heart attack, he begins with the past as he tries to understand his father, whose life in America had never matched his extravagant expectations. The narrative is also an exploration of Rajiv’s own feeling about the tensions between his Indian heritage and his American experience. Rajiv recalls how his grandfather Bapuji, a fervent Nationalist in the 1930s, when India was still under British rule, bombed a local bridge; while Bapuji escaped, his wife was briefly imprisoned as an accessory. Their son Vasant came to the US in the mid-’60s as a graduate student in engineering. He stayed on, returning only to marry an Indian woman, with whom he raised a family in suburban New York. As the years passed, Vasant made a good living, but, as Rajiv recalls, the cumulative wounds of alienation and prejudice took their toll: neighbors objected to the presence of visiting family members; and the parents of Rajiv’s girlfriend Anne were embarrassed by Vasant’s behavior. Taking a semester off, Rajiv goes to India, where he finds his grandparents living in reduced circumstances, while Bapuji is still an activist, even though his dream of an India free of foreign influence is tarnished by reality. After Rajiv is inveigled into helping Bapuji plan another bombing, he begins to understand how misleading snap judgments can be: “people fracture into possibility.”
Parekh writes prose that sometimes is self-consciously portentous, but, still, he has created an intelligent and moving take on a timely subject.