No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal
No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal was a fascinating read that revealed the inner worlds of three distinct Indian American characters and, because of its quietness, and its honesty, I fell in love with it.
The book first introduces Harit, a lonely, middle-aged man who lives with his mother and is grappling with the loss of his older sister, whose cause of death is revealed as the story unfolds. His mother, seemingly blind due to cataracts, rests at home in a catatonic state. To help her through her mourning, and also through his, he dresses in a sari each night, pretending to keep his sister alive to mask their sorrows. He works as a salesperson in men's accessories and develops an odd relationship with an older man, past his prime, named Teddy. Coupled with his private home activities, he begins to explore and question his sexuality.
Ranjana is the second character, and its heroine. Her husband courses his habitual path, going to teach chemistry classes and playing tennis an evening a week, while her son, Prashant, is at his first year of university at Princeton. Her day job offers her little comfort, working as the receptionist of a proctologist with a loud-mouthed woman named Cheryl. Meanwhile, she escapes the mundanity of her life through the writing of paranormal Indian fiction and the critiques of her less-than-constructive writing group. However, she meets a young Indian man at the proctologist's office, who opens new doors for her socially, ultimately leading her to the gay bar at which he bartends, where she meets Teddy and, subsequently, Harit.
Finally, the book follows Ranjana's son, Prashant, during his first year of university, as he struggles with a secret love of literature while plowing ahead in maths and sciences, and as he falls for the 'it' girl on campus. He keeps a strict distance from his parents, allowing them to visit campus only once each semester, exploring what it is like to claim a life outside of the one he shared with his family. He finds himself overly dedicated to his studies, and consumed with doubts around his virginity and his string of ill-suited crushes.
Uniquely, the author diverges from these three voices only three times, once to narrate in Harit's mother's voice, then Teddy's and finally, Ranjana's husband, Mohan. Each sweetens the plot just so.
This book did have some pitfalls, outlined well by the New York Times, in sometimes-lacking depth and in its overly-happy ending, but it absolutely won me over. I loved the loneliness and resolve of each character. I loved that it culminated in a road trip between Harit, Teddy, Ranjana and Cheryl to reach a Writers' Conference. I loved that the characters were awkward, and had doubts, and secrets and pasts, even in the small presentation of their lives today. This was not a love story, or an action-packed adventure, it was a simply told, uniquely detailed presentation of three Indian Americans based out of Ohio who, despite the placidness of their American lives, were crafting who they were, as Indian and American and individual, in all their soft brilliance and through their strange, amusing friendships.