Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: The Sleep Walker's Guide to Dancing

What an enjoyable and enchanting read!  The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing brings us a cast of sometimes looney, but always loveable characters whose quirks are laid out for all to see, and whose struggles to become integrated into their society while holding onto their unique cultural identity are easily understood by anyone who has ever felt "different" for whatever reason.

The publisher's notes about the premise "Brain surgeon Thomas Eapen's decision to shorten his visit to his mother's home in India has consequences that reverberate two decades later as he starts conversing with the dead and daughter Amina must sort through the family's past to help him."  give us just a hint of the magic and mayhem the reader deals with in this story of three generations of family coming to grips with illness, emmigration, and different cultural norms - especially for young women.

The main character, Amina Eapen is a 20 something budding photographer living in Seattle who is called home to Albuquerque by her mother to help with her father Thomas' strange behavior.  (He's talking to dead people for one thing.)  Not only does Amina have to decide if this call for help is just a ploy on her mother's part to get her home again, but she has to sort out whether or not her father truly needs help and what she is responsible for doing.    All during her visit, various relatives appear, (among them her cousin "Dimple" the all-American girl who has fully adopted to not only the American way of life, but to the full feminist agenda) telling stories about the family back in India, and pulling Amina further along into the family past, not to mention trying to convince her to abandon her job in Seattle, and find a nice Indian boy to marry to settle down near her parents.

Mira does a fantastic job of weaving back and forth from past to present, of painting word pictures that have us seeing, hearing and smelling all the elements of the cultures this family is dealing with.  It's an emotional roller-coaster; it's a long read that takes a while to settle into; but in the end it's a story of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and hope.  It's perfect to settle into as the nights lengthen this autumn.  I just wish we had a good Indian take-away close by!

I had so much fun with this I checked out the audio also.  It's exceptionally well done - read by the author - and really gives the listener an added emotional dimension. Her ability to give different voices and accents to the characters is exceptional.

Title: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
Author: Mira Jacob
Publisher: Random House (2014), Hardcover, 512 pages
Audio: Books on Tape (2014) 12 hours.
Genre: Literary fiction
Subject: immigration, assimilation, cultural differences
Setting: Albuquerque, Seattle, India
Source: Public library


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