D’Souza’s second work of fiction (Whiteman, 2006), less a novel than a collection of linked stories, is at its heart about two Konkan brothers and a white American woman.
The American is Denise Klein, a poor runaway from Detroit who still achieves a college education. In 1966 she joins the Peace Corps for three extraordinary years in India among the Konkans (an ethnic minority) on the West Coast. These people share cultural traits with the Hindus yet have their own language, practice Catholicism (a legacy of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama) and have a taste for pork. The tall, glamorous white woman is noticed by Santan D’Sai, an upper-class Konkan and former police commissioner. He orders his firstborn Lawrence home from Bombay to woo Denise, who “wanted to marry India.” So she accepts the eligible bachelor, unaware this is a form of arranged marriage, just as Lawrence is unaware he is marrying below his caste. The couple leaves for Chicago, where Denise gives birth to Francisco. The little boy is the narrator; it sounds awkward, but it works. The stories are not in chronological order and are interwoven with commentaries on Konkan culture. Despite a spellbinding fairytale version of da Gama’s voyage to India, there may be too much didacticism here for some readers, especially as there’s such rich material in the relationships between Denise, Lawrence and Sam, a younger brother who joins them in Chicago. Denise favors the fun-loving Sam over her stern husband and they have an affair. There is something tragic about both brothers’ American lives: Lawrence thinks he’s white until racist assaults on his suburban home remind him otherwise, while Sam lacks the courage to defy his family and marry the black American he’s been dating.
Every page yields its pleasures—D’Souza is a natural. The only disappointment is that he has not orchestrated the lives of his three protagonists into a more focused narrative.