No One Can Pronounce My Name
Author: Rakesh Satyal
The loveliest of novels, No One Can Pronounce My Name wafts in and out of book bound lives like a fragile dream as it dances with its characters in their pursuit beyond loneliness and fear of the unknown. Such a novel appears seldom, as the reader falls into its delightful nest, each chirp of characters a delight. Satyal’s characters are filled with the ability to fail and still love, to endure and still love, to seek and still love, to make erroneous assumptions and still love – in the form of friendship as well as romantic love. And it gives the novel an enduring foundation, an uplift of a backwind in the realm of novels about immigrants that reveals quiet truths and courage.
When his father dies in India, Harit Singha takes his sister Swati and his grief struck mother and moves to Cleveland, Ohio in America, finds a friend (Teddy) and gets a job through another friend of his mother’s, Gital Didi. Harit’s works as a salesman in Harriman’s where Teddy shows him the ropes. Then, in a terrifying accident, Swati falls down the stairs in their apartment and dies. Harit takes the blame as his mother sits silently, broken in grief. Harit begins a strange mutation of his own grief: he dresses up like Swati in a sari every evening and pretends to his mother that Swati is there with her. His mother has cataracts and Harit does not know that she has been to the doctor with Gital and that she can now see. Harit thinks she is sightless. His mother pulls further into herself as she realizes silently that this is Harit’s way of grieving and she will not speak to him until he is able to put his own grief to the side. Her friend, Gital takes care of her daily, and this makes Harit even guiltier as he cannot take care of his mother himself.
One of the subtle beauties (and there are many) of this novel is the juxtaposition of Harit (second generation immigrant) and his mother (first generation immigrant), and Ranjana and Mohan (first generation) and Prashant (second generation). The first generation parents have the traditions of India and must change as their sons reveal that they are more American than Indian.
As Satyal falls deeper into the novel, we realize that Harit is closet gay and as he dresses up as Swati, his beloved sister, he is also enjoying his grieving. Freddy is gay and eventually he and Harit end up as lovers. Funny and tender, we laugh with Harit, not at him.
Then we (and Harit) meet another immigrant family in Cleveland, Indian Americans Ranjana, her husband Mohan and their Princeton bound son Prashant as they face a crisis: Prashant is leaving for college, and Ranjana believes that her marriage is in jeopardy. She turns to her writing group where she is writing paranormal Indian novels, and feels rejected by them, especially by her best friend Seema who does not understand or encourage Ranjana. Prashant, a chemistry major, is going to change his major to English and knows this will torture his father, Mohan. Prashant also wants to experience sex and worries about the arranged marriage traditions of his family: he will not go along with that. He limits how often his parents can see him: twice a semester. Meantime Mohan has been feeling like a failure to his wife and has been seeking information on the internet on making better love to her; when Ranjana sees the internet history she panics, thinking Mohan is having an affair.
Each moment in this novel creates such pathos, even while making us laugh, as Satyal’s characters pursue an authentic journey. The assumptions made by the characters about their families is often hilarious, but so true: we see ourselves doing the same things.
When Harit and Ranjana meet at a party, they become friends and the families are joined in the human emotions and actions that families fall into: Mohan is jealous, not knowing Harit is gay; Freddy is happy his boyfriend Harit has made a socially astute Indian friend in Sanjana; Prashant thinks his mother is having an affair also…. and finally Harit confesses to his mother that he has been appearing as Swati, upon which his mother begins to tell him her truth: she and Gital are lovers also. And so the genius of nuance and assumption creates a novel that is a gift. Wonderfully written I absolutely loved it!
Ratings are based on a 5-star scale
Review by Broad “A”
We received a product to facilitate our review. All opinions are our own
- You can pick up this book on Amazon.com here: No One Can Pronounce My Name: A Novelor at a bookseller near you.