|Picture: My Own|
From the book cover: Of all the family gatherings in her childhood, one stands out in Amina's memory. It is 1979, in Salem, India, when a visit to her grandmothers house escalates into an explosive encounter, pitching brother against brother, mother against son.
In its aftermath, Amina's father Thomas rushes his family back to their new home in America. And while at first it seems that the intercontinental flight has taken them out of harm's way, his decision sets off a chain of events that will forever haunt Thomas and his wife Kamala, their intellectually furious son, Akhil and the watchful young Amina.
Now, twenty years later, Amina receives a phone call from her mother. Thomas has been acting strangely and Kamala needs her daughter back. Amina returns to the New Mexico of her childhood, where her mother has always filled silences with food, only to discover that getting to the truth is not as easy as going home.
Confronted with Thomas's unwillingness to talk, Kamala's Born Again convictions and the suspicion that not everything is what it seems, Amina finds herself at the centre of a mystery so tangled that to make any headway, she has to excavate her family's painful past. And in doing so she must lay her own ghosts to rest.
My take: I picked up this book after reading the raving reviews it has been getting. And I'm glad that I did because, this is a gem of a book. I'd read a few articles and interviews with the author previously and her writing has been compared to that of Jhumpa Lahiri. As I started reading, I felt the same too. Immigrant Indians who are living in America, tackling issues such as marriage, loneliness and death are themes which Lahiri tackles with ease.
Mira Jacob has however, brought her own distinct style in giving voice to Amina, the protagonist. They say not to judge a book by its cover. But I say, please do judge this book by its cover. The story is equally, if not more beautiful than the cover. Considering the fact that it took the author ten years to write this book, it should come as no surprise that the book is quite a lengthy read at five hundred odd pages.
The story moves at a fast pace alternating between the past and the present. We are introduced to a few characters in the beginning like Thomas's mother, his brother- Sunil and his son- Itty. Though they do not have a long place in the book, their presence can be felt right till the end.
The character that intrigued me most was Akhil- Amina's teenage brother who has a huge impact on her even beyond his death. When a family emergency calls Amina back home to Albuquerque, she has no other option but to go back home to a concerned mother and an anxious father.
In a country like America, which makes you yearn for home even after years of living there, your friends slowly turn into family. And that is how the Kurians and the Ramakrishnans and the Eapens turn to each other for comfort in times of distress.
The book goes on to show us how decisions that we took even when we were in our childhood comes back to haunt us later on. Amina is an interesting character in herself, with her dark skin and being constantly criticized by her grandmother and her passion for photography from a young age. She too, has a lot of ghosts to face back home; like her father. Trauma affects us in different ways and the healing process for some maybe time consuming. Others, like Thomas's seldom do.
I loved the book a lot but for the fact that it felt a bit slow and dragging towards the end. Unless you account for a few hiccups in the second half, the book was nothing but perfect. Due to this very reason, I'm refraining myself from giving it a five stars.
The book is a brilliant example of the "show, don't tell" technique; be it in the sights or the smells of childhood or nostalgia, the book has it all. Giving 'The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing' a four stars on five. This is one debut novel you don't want to miss. I know for sure that I'm already looking forward to the next one by the author. A highly recommended read!