Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062668752
Hardcover, $26.99, 320 pages
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."
"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.
You can listen to excerpts from the book here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Leah Franqui's tour. The rest of her stops are here: