Summary: A family moves to the US and the three generations change, adapt and remain Bengali.
As I said yesterday, I find good books quite often by listening to people that love to read. One of my regular habits is listening to several interview podcasts that often interview authors. The Conversing podcast by Mark Labberton, the president of Fuller Seminary, is one of my favorite. It has a diverse guest lists, but also quite often these are actual friends, or long term acquaintances.
Mitali Perkins studied public policy and political science. As someone that came to the US from India as a child she said there were three options for children, to be an engineer, a doctor, or an engineer, a joke that is in the book as well. After first breaking the mold to study politics and political science out of a calling toward justice, she took the plunge to change hearts through stories.
You Bring the Distant Near is her most recent book and it was nominated for a National Book Award. Her earlier book, Rickshaw Girl, was named as one of the top 100 Children’s books of the past 100 years by the New York Public Library and is currently being made into a movie. Several of her other 10 books have also won numerous awards as well.
You Bring the Distant Near is a novel, but from what I know of her Mitali Perkins’ story it is also semi-autobiographical. It is the story of five women, from three generations of an immigrant family. Starting in the 1970s focusing first on one daughter, Sonia, and then the other daughter Tara, the story progresses in time as the daughters marry, have daughters of their own, and then also the story of the matriarch, Ranee.
The story is well written, engaging, it feels realistic as an immigrant story. The tension is primarily family and cultural tension as well as different concepts of what it means to have romance when crossing cultures. The oldest generation was an arranged marriage. The first generation children react against arranged marriages, but also see how their own parents arranged marriage has worked well.
Issues of racism in the US, colorism and prejudice within Indian culture, the multicultural pull and tension within immigrant families and what become interracial marriages all are handled well.
One of the interesting features of the book is that there are a lot of arguments. They are heated and real. But the arguments and disclosures often open up real issues that allow for change. It felt very different from my own personal approach to conflict. And I do not know how much of that may be cultural and how much is presentation of personal conflict styles. But the ability to change when confronted with truth is a real feature of the book. None of the characters are perfect. They all have both human flaws and real strengths. The characters love one another, even when they do not always agree.
Glancing through the rest of Perkin’s book, You Bring the Distant Near appears to be the book with the oldest target age. Most of the rest of the books appear to be more middle grade or children’s. But I will read more. You Bring the Distant Near was the only one that was in stock at my library.