Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this postcolonial tale set in New York in the 1990s, 30-something Sandhya Rosenblum finds herself haunted by memories of a dead sweetheart in her native India, drifting apart from her Jewish-American husband and searching for solace with her Egyptian lover. Meanwhile, U.S.-born Draupadi Dinkins (of Indian, African, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and European descent) struggles with her own demons and losses, and forges a life in performance art. The immigrant characters in Alexander's novel adapt to American life but feel stretched thin, as if they should be in two places at once. One week they're rushing halfway across the globe to the sickbed of an elderly parent; the next, stumbling around jet-lagged in New Jersey. Accordingly, Manhattan Music is not an easy or serenely melodic book: frequent changes of focus, place, time, voice and style reinforce the themes of disorientation and multiculturalism. But while the cutting creates a kaleidoscopic feeling, it also distances the reader from the characters and renders the tale choppy. Nonetheless, Alexander, the author of both fiction (Nampally Road) and non- (The Shock of Arrival), has produced another sophisticated novel reflecting the psychological realities of people coping with hyphenated identities, divided loyalties, fragmented dreams. (Mar.)
In the latest novel from Alexander, an Indian-born author whose published work also includes criticism, poetry, and memoir (e.g., Fault Lines, LJ 3/1/93), Sandhya rebels against her parents and the Indian tradition of arranged marriage and marries Stephen Rosenblum, an American Jew. After moving to New York City and having a child, she struggles to find meaning in her life and to come to terms with being an immigrant. Alienated from both her native and adopted countries and from her husband, she is befriended by an Indian-African performance artist who introduces her to an Egyptian man with whom she has an affair. At times, the narrative is presented from the perspectives of Sandhya's friends, which can be a bit confusing because their voices aren't all that different. Alexander writes of political repression and terrorism, feminism and personal politics in a manner that is mystical and dreamlike but ultimately self-absorbed and claustrophobic. Not an essential purchase.-Kimberly G. Allen, MCI Corp. Information Resources Ctr., Washington, D.C.
Examining the Indian diaspora, Alexander (Nampally Road, 1990; a memoir, Fault Lines, 1993; etc.) focuses on one woman's attempt at American assimilation while holding onto her native identity.
The story opens with Sandhya Rosenblum sitting in Central Park, culturally adrift. Having married Stephen, a New Yorker whom she met while he was vacationing in her native India five years ago, Sandhya now finds herself living in Manhattan with her husband and their small daughter, Dora, but feeling directionless, with seemingly nothing to do with her life. Stephen, who's barely fleshed out here, was apparently fascinated by the lives of European explorers, and in a sense he has brought Sandhya back as he would a rare and exotic spice. Amid the framework of the plot the Gulf War breaks out, Islamic fanaticism takes clandestine root in New York, and Rajiv Ghandi is assassinated. The cultural backdrop of turmoil seems intended to give consequence and context to Sandhya's plight, but she too is unable to escape one- dimensionality, so much so that the ensuing affair she has with Rashid, a dashing Egyptian scholar, and her suicide attempt following his subsequent rejection add little weight to the story. Also on hand are Sandhya's cousin Jay, a photographer currently living in New York, her other cousins Sakhi and Ravi, now tasting suburban American life in New Brunswick, and Jay's friend Draupadi, a performance artist whose work explores her societal role as the daughter of immigrants. Their tales help to build a resonance of complementary ideas, but however clear and compelling Alexander's general intentions may be, her framework is so highly anecdotal that remain distant and abstract. In the end, at an Indian festival attended by all the characters, it seems at last as if Sandhya may be growing into an independent woman. But too much of her journey has been hidden from view.
Lively passages and provocative ideas, but sketchy characters: a near-miss.