A New York Times reporter and stand-up comedian travels to India, looking for clues to his immigrant parents’ lives, and finds lighter moments amid dark family secrets.
Growing up Hindu in suburban New Jersey, debut author Deb learned that Indian weddings were multiday events, “a slightly tamer version of Burning Man.” When his best friend decided to get married in India, the author decided to make his first visit to the country to which his father had returned after his parents’ divorce. Deb hoped to find answers to long-simmering questions: Why was his mother so unhappy? What made his parents’ arranged marriage a disaster when an aunt and uncle’s had thrived? Why had his father abruptly gone back to India, without explaining why? Accompanied by his American girlfriend, Deb embarked on a five-city tour that began at his father’s flat in a neighborhood he calls “the Brooklyn of Kolkata.” Over the next three weeks, as he visited relatives and monuments, skeletons tumbled out of a family closet that the author breezily inventories. He chronicles his years as a “self-loathing Bengali child” in largely white suburbs, his discovery that stand-up comedy could be “cathartic,” and his former work as a CBS News reporter covering the Trump campaign. In the foreword, Hasan Minhaj rightly says that Deb “goes well beyond the typical, ‘Hey, my parents wanted me to get straight A’s’ model minority narrative.” As the author discusses his travel from Kolkata to Agra and beyond, the book often resembles a rougher-around-the-edges version of a Bill Bryson travelogue, featuring a wisecracking tone that sometimes turns sophomoric. (Deb’s first reaction to the Taj Mahal: “Holy shit. It’s right there. Holy shit. It’s right there. IT’S RIGHT THERE.”) Memoirs by children of immigrants often fault clueless parents; this one is refreshing for Deb’s realization that—whatever his elders’ missteps—he needed “to take some responsibility for my part in our family’s disconnect” for things to change.
A sympathetic portrait of South Asians who are neither crazy and rich
nor humorless nerds.