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 Kolkota 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. Pavil’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.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Pival is a recently widowed woman, never having left her city of Kolkota (Calcutta for those who are unfamiliar) and is desperate for news of her son, Rahi. A year earlier, Rahi had shocked his parents by revealing he was gay, and his father erased him from the family, disowning him and refusing to have his wife speak of him. But now, with her husband gone, Pival is desperate to connect with her son, confirm he is either alive or dead (as her husband claimed), to have the answers she so desperately needs. An advertisement for the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour company seems to provide the perfect option. A guided bus tour from New York City to California wll give Pival the opportunity to find her son, and see a bit of the world, a world she has never wanted to explore. What emerges here is a multi-layered story of expectations, hopes, dreams and reality, all couched in the individual’s perspectives and unfamiliarity with the greater world outside their own comfort zone. The travel agency is run by an immigrant who is a master of improvisation and providing a hope of more, all on a shoestring. His Indian tour guide is a Bangladeshi woman that never has left the city, and a chaperone, a young actress who in lieu of acting is taking a ‘paid vacation’. The joy in this story is the connections between the woman, all with different experiences and expectations, most incredulous at Pival’s determination to find her son in the two weeks and itinerary laid out. There is something to be said for proximity and forced company, as none of the women actually have any real knowledge of what to expect, only hopes lie on the open road ahead. Slowly they start to revel pieces of themselves and their choices, reexamining long-held beliefs, adjusting to quirks and foibles, grasping onto the sense of vastness and perhaps even some futility in Pival’s search. Franqui’s story is full of moments: hopeful, sad, determined and even questioning as each character is facing a realignment of their thoughts regarding what they knew, and reframing it in ways to accommodate what they have learned and found important. Far less about the search and the scenery, the story is truly an intriguing perspective on the hope for new opportunity and options, acceptance and finding a place that can allow your ambitions to soar unfettered. Overall, the story managed to share that hopefulness, even in the face of overwhelming odds, leaving readers with a mostly positive impression. A bit slow to pick up, and several rapid, unannounced point of view perspectives were jarring, I can only attribute them to the history as a playwright – where perspectives with the visual addition of an actor translate with more continuity than in written form. An intriguing story that leaves me interested in seeing just what will emerge next. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
There is nothing more exciting than reading a debut novel and falling in love with the story and characters. That just happened for me with Leah Franqui's America For Beginners. We begin with Mrs. Pival Sengupta, a recent Bangladeshi widow, planning a trip to America. We learn that Pival had an unhappy marriage to a man who verballly abused her, and banished their only son Rahi for a reason we come to learn later. Pival is "going to America to find her son or his lover. And to kill herself." Pival has contacted Ronnie Munshi of the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company to arrange for her visit. Ronnie is an Indian immigrant who worked his way up from dishwasher to owning his own tour company, catering to wealthy Bangladeshis. Ronnie has hired Satya, a poor young Bengali man pretending to be Bangladeshi, to act as Pival's guide. This will be Satya's first cross-country trip, and he is extremely nervous. Ronnie also hired an American woman, Rebecca, a young struggling actress who sees this job as a way to earn some money quickly to help her achieve her dream which is slowly becoming out-of-reach, to act as Pival's chaperone. Each of the above characters narrate chapters of this fantastic road trip story, alternating with Jake and Bhim's story. Californian Jake has fallen in love with Bhim, a young Indian scientist, who is reluctant to admit his love for Jake. Bhim tells Jake that in his home country it is not as acceptable to be gay as it is in America. We travel America, stopping first in New York City, then on to Niagara Falls, Corning, New York to see the glass factory, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas and finally Los Angeles. As Pival, Satya and Rebecca traverse the country, staying in Comfort Inns and eating in inauthentic Indian restaurants, we visit famous American sights like The Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, The Liberty Bell, The Lincoln Memorial, and get to know Pival, Satya and Rebecca a little bit better. I loved this book. Franqui does an amazing job of giving each character room to breathe and tell his or her own story, and each story is more compelling than the next. But I felt closest to Pival, perhaps because we are both mothers of sons, but what a strong woman she is. She spent much of her life catered to and sheltered, never traveling far from home. Watching her open up was a privilege. Franqui writes so beautifully too. "As Tanvi grew upset, her folding became increasingly precise and perfect, until you could have cut onions with the razor-sharp corners of the sari silk." And this: "She had thought Ram would be the antidote to the loneliness and longing she had begun to feel. Instead, he became the cause of both." I confess to reading the last few chapters through tears. Pival's story was so emotional and beautiful, and yes, sad. America For Beginners takes us on a road trip across the country, and on the trip that Ronnie, Satya, and Rebecca each take to get their share of the American dream that so many people long for and work to achieve. I highly recommend America For Beginners, and look forward to more from Leah Franqui.
A beautifully told journey to another country, other lives, explorations of feelings and acceptance of changing times. Hope to read more from this wonderful author.