In her new memoir, Narayan (Monsoon Diary, 2004) finds that the concept of “home” can be quite complicated.
Narayan’s memoir is, in her words, “by an immigrant for an immigrant,” but will likely resonate with other readers. She recounts her journey from a close-knit but superstitious and confining family in Madras, India, to living a life in America. Her story takes us through her many journeys—from serving as a fellow at a prestigious New England women’s college (Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, Mass.) to being an artist, writer, journalist, born-again Hindu mother and U.S. citizen. Narayan moved between the Indian social world and the competitive American urban lifestyle in Manhattan as a married mother of two. However, the successes she achieved left her questioning whether she had left behind her true self in India. She decided that she wanted the best of both worlds for her daughters—an upbringing in India and then college in America. Although she and her husband were dedicated to their career aspirations, they decided to repatriate to their native country to raise their children in a milieu where they could learn hospitality, generosity and respect for elders. The author provides details about life in both countries that are engaging, colorful and full of quirky characters. Narayan also shares her ruminations about what constitutes home, self and Indian values (Sari or pantsuit? Submissive daughter-in-law or feminist?). However, the memoir’s narrative flow is abruptly interrupted on several occasions, such as when she accepts an arranged marriage which helps reconnect her with her Indian identity, and there are gaps where events were covered in her previous memoir. The book also introduces undeveloped themes, as when the author writes that “America became every immigrant’s nightmare” after 9/11. In the end, the author’s return to India becomes a second immigrant quest in reverse. Her story comes full circle rather than evolving in a straight line.
An uneven memoir by a woman still searching for her true self.