America for Beginners

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading America for Beginners America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
on July 24, 2018
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week “working” vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.

Goodreads

I loved this book that brought together several people who are new to America.  I love reading books that give you a new perspective of America.

Mrs. Sengupta is newly widowed.  She has lived a sheltered life in Kolkata, constrained by what was expected by her husband’s traditional family.  Now her husband is gone and she is going to take this opportunity to do what she wants to do and no one will stop her.  Her only child moved to America.  He called home and told her husband that he was gay.  Soon afterwards her husband told her their child had died.  She never knew if he was lying or not.  Now she is going to go see the country that her son loved and find out for sure what happened.

Ronnie Munshi is a Bangladeshi man who runs a tour company catering to high class Bengali tourists.  He doesn’t want anyone to know that he and all his tour guides are just pretending to be Bengali. 

Satya is his newest hire.  He’s never seen anything outside of New York but he has his guide books.  What could go wrong escorting one widow on a country-wide tour?

Rebecca is an American struggling actress who is hired to be a companion to Mrs. Sengupta.  She knows when Satya is making things up.  Is she going to bring the whole scheme down?

Mrs. Sengupta, Satya, and Rebecca take off across the country enduring bad Indian food, multiple tourist traps, and subpar hotels all while each is confronting their ingrained biases and attitudes.  They rub against each other’s sharp edge and find themselves reshaped into people they didn’t imagine that they could be.

This is a character driven novel that is beautifully written.  Suspense comes from wondering what she is going to find when she gets to Los Angeles and the last known address of her son. 

 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Priyam Dhar

About Leah Franqui

Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS is her first novel.

Find out more about Franqui at her website, and connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

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