America for Beginners is a newly released novel about an upper-class, widowed Indian woman named Pival on the first trip she’s ever been on outside of her own city. I was pretty unsure what to expect with this one, but it ended up being a ridiculously good read and I’m so glad I picked it up!
Pival is on a trip to uncover what really happened to her son, Rahi. Her husband, a rather unlikeable character, banished Rahi from ever calling them or visiting them again after he called from California to tell them he was gay. Later, Ram takes a call and tells Pival that their son has died. Not sure what to believe, Pival decides to go find out for herself after Ram dies.
To accomplish her goal, Pival books a trip with an Indian tour company in the United States and requests both a tour guide and a female companion. Through a somewhat complicated scheme, our chubby, money-grabbing tour company owner, Ronnie, matches Pival with guide Satya and companion Rebecca. With Pival, the three form a very unlikely trio with clashing personalities, interests, and beliefs.
America for Beginners was equal parts hilarious, gut-wrenching, heartwarming, and just plain good. Franqui’s character development went far beyond what I was expecting from all those characters, and the situations she puts them in and reactions they have are so well thought out and really made me have all the feels. I could tell that Franqui really felt for each of her characters and was able to use empathy to build them into deep, distinct personalities.
As they travel across the country, the relationships between the three strangers take some unexpected turns as they each have really personal interactions with the others. They also all have deep personal lives beyond the trip itself, and I thought Franqui did an amazing job at putting all of that into the book without making it too long or heavy.
Overall, I really loved this one. I’ll give it a solid 4.5 stars!
• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (July 24, 2018)
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. Pival’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.
About Leah Franqui
Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS is her first novel.