Ever since Joli reviewed Leah Franqui’s novel America for Beginners last summer, I knew I wanted to read it. I was so excited to get the opportunity to participate in the current TLC Book Tour for the paperback release.
Pival is a wealthy Indian widow who is determined to find out what happened to her son, Ravi. He traveled to America and never came home; now, she wants to make the journey herself. With the aid of Bangladeshi tour guide Satya and an American female companion, Rebecca, Pival embarks on the trip of a lifetime.
The trip is perhaps not as eye-opening as it could be — the owner of the tour company insists on sticking to the big tourist attractions and ensuring every meal they eat is provided at or by an Indian restaurant — but it ends up being quite memorable all the same. All three of the characters learn a lot from each other and are able to grow as the story continues. I thought Franqui did a wonderful job developing them all realistically.
It was an insightful story that didn’t necessarily go where I expected it to. It was both touching and funny. I can easily see this being made into a movie, and I think it would be a lovely selection for a book club. An enthusiastic 4 stars from me!
• Paperback: 336 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (July 30, 2019)
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.