The immigrant experience has been mined by Indian American writers for what seems like forever, considering everyone from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and Jhumpa Lahiri to Thrity Umrigar and Nalini Jones have relied on that clash of cultures for source material.
It’s easy to force Mira Jacob into this category too, prompting comparisons by which one can then evaluate her debut novel. To do so would be unfair though, not simply because she clearly does have a voice of her own. What she also has is the skill to use ingenious cues like music from the 1980s to drive her two-decade long tale of a family’s derailment forward. Another thing that works in her favour is the ability to find comedy in the midst of tragedy which, like writing about sex, is a potential stumbling for so many.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob, Bloomsbury, Rs 599. Available at leading bookstores.
The protagonists — Akhil Eapen born in India, his younger sister Amina born in Albuquerque, and their parents Kamala and Thomas (who moved to America after Akhil was born) — struggle with quotidian disappointments and massive tragedies that occur in most of our families. It is Jacob’s nuanced portrayal of their psychological lives that adds enormous value to her prose.
As mentioned earlier, she is also very funny. Kamala asks her daughter why she continues to stay in Seattle despite the rain. Amina says she is used to it, to which her mother says, “That’s not a good reason to stay somewhere. No wonder that dirty man shot himself — all that time without sun and this devil woman tearing her pantyhoses.” Amina replies: “Kurt Cobain was a junkie, Ma.” Her mother comes back with, “Because he needed more sun!”
Jacob has described the book as an attempt to find meaning, “as an immigrant, to make a life in a stolen country.” She succeeds rather well.