Book Review: The Invitation
When I first read the blurb of this book, I expected an emotional drama filled with behavioral and emotional theatrics displayed when a group of individuals, especially those that have migrated to the promised land of generation ‘X’ meet after a decade! I was expecting chapters filled with the display of wealth and success by the main protagonists in true immigrant style while expecting some skeletons to tumble out of their closets.
I was partially right, considering that secrets did spill out when least expected,
but what I did not expect was also a tale of ambitions and dreams gone sour, twists where children do not share the same aspirations and ideas of a successful career as their parents, and the life of four strangers with personalities as different as chalk and cheese who meet in a new land and forge a friendship that stands the test of life and time as they walk different paths in life.
Frances and Jay – the golden couple, the ones expected to live the American dream by their friends, find themselves trying to balance their pay checks and bills while dealing with two young kids and a difficult teenage daughter who seems to be failing at school. Their dreams for her to join Harvard, seem to be washed down the toilet as she fails her exams. Frances’s disappointment regarding her daughter’s future magnifies several fold when she receives Vikram’s invitation to celebrate his son’s graduation from MIT. She can’t help but wonder how someone like Vikram who couldn’t speak English properly when he first arrived at UCLA succeeded in a manner that she and Jay couldn’t.
Lali, the dark horse from Kerala who almost did not graduate due to a messy love affair, seems to doubt if her long and happy marriage to her Jewish cardiologist husband is on the rocks…To top it all she is faced with the fact that her son Aron, may be leaving Harvard as he does not seem to be enjoying his college life there. Facing a mid life crisis, she dabbles in a temporary online fling with the man who once broke her heart and even makes plans to meet him during the weekend of Vikram’s party. But how far will she go?
And Vikram – the biggest success story of them all! The man who managed to make the immigrant dream come true. He owns an IT company, lives in a big mansion and is on the verge of handing over the reigns of his company to his son who has just graduated from MIT. But his son wants nothing to do with his company and would like to pursue his own dreams and make it big in his chosen profession….Will Vikram come to terms with this revelation? And what will his peers, colleagues, friends and the Indian society think?
As all four friends plan to meet each other at the party, each goes through the process of battling with their inner demons as they try to come to terms to how their lives have turned out to be.
I am sure many of us reminisce about the past, our dreams when we were young and of how we wanted to be doctors, artists, dancers or architects. Of beautiful homes with gardens or owning a business. Not all dreams come true and many times destiny and fate play their roles to tip the balance either way. Many will find that their own dreams have come true in the lives of their friends who were just mere shadows while in college. But expressing our thoughts and
emotions about such subjects is not an easy task and this is where Anne Cherian scores! Her language beautifully brings out the insecurities and emotions that churn within each individual when faced with such realities and her straightforward style of writing weaves the behavioral threads that each protagonist displays while trying to come to terms with how their life has turned out.
The characters have been developed beautifully, with detailed insights into the pasts and present of each of the protagonists so that the reader can understand why Jay, Frances, Lali and Vikram behave or think the way they do. The pace of the book is fast in spite of the simple subject and it was quite difficult to put the book down, until I reached the last page. In fact, I wished that there were more pages to the book.The book throws light on immigrant dreams and struggles in the 80’s and probably early/ late nineties and the fire that burns within Indians who went to study in the US and their behaviours when confronted with a new culture, lifestyle and wide range of choices that they never had before.
My only gripe with the book was the initial part where the author mentions about the presence of domestic help in India for almost every chore and how life in India is very simple and slow!! This particular school of thought which brings out the green monster of those who have lived in the US for a long time, seems a bit cliched when compared to life in India today. These days, life in India is definitely not slow and domestic help is usually a nightmare and many would agree that we are better off without them. I felt this part gives an inaccurate definition of our country today.
And I cannot sign off without mentioning the cover – A very simple front cover with a red and gold invitation that many of us would have received for weddings in India. This along with the title of the novel in beautiful Italics font, draws the reader to the book…I personally found it mysterious and wanted to know what the book was all about.
I have never read other books by Anne Cherian, but have now bookmarked her other book A Good Indian Wife to check out, the next time when I am at the library. All in all,
The Invitation is a great book on immigrant dreams and reality and all the emotional drama attached to such dreams…..A book that delivers!
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