Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier

When first we met Dimple Lala in Born Confused, she is a 17 year old Indian American who up until now had been living in the confusing space between those two words with nothing concrete to stand on - a space where she is too Indian to be American and too American to be Indian.  She is an ABCD - American Born Confused Desi (Hindu for a person from South Asia).

Dimple is also a talented photographer, carrying her Chica Tikka, her third eye SLR camera, everywhere and recording everything with it.  A gift from her beloved grandfather, her now deceased Dadaji, its photographs were how the two bridged their language barrier, communicating their lives to each other in pictures from half way around the world - Dimple in New Jersey, Dadaji in Bombay.  Dimple also found herself involved with the boy her parents had considered 'a suitable boy' and whom she originally rejected simply because meeting him was arranged by their parents.  The very handsome Karsh Kapoor is a favorite Indian DJ playing gigs in Manhattan night spots.

Now, in Bombay Blues, it is two year later and Dimple is 19, a student at New York University and still with Karsh.  Dimple is heading to India along with her parents to celebrate the Lala's wedding anniversary and for the wedding of Dimple's sister-cousin Sangita.  Karsh arrives a few days later, to hopefully break into Bombay's music scene and to DJ Sangita's wedding.  Dimple and Karsh have been growing apart recently and she is hoping the trip will help them reconnect to each other again.

But Karsh has other work to do - he needs to find closure and come to terms with his father's tragic death, a death that has shattered him.  This work that doesn't include Dimple, but does include some Hare Krishana, especially after his first DJ gig doesn't go as well as he had hoped. 

And in reaction to Karsh pushing her away, Dimple has a fling with a fellow photographer simply know as Cowboy.  She had noticed him at the airport and after running into him a second time in Bombay, Dimple decides it is a fling that is meant to be.

For her part, Dimple, has taken two giant steps backwards since her cross cultural identity crisis in Born Confused.  Now, she needs to rediscover and reconnect with who she is and what she wants to be.  Oddly enough, it is the bride-to-be Sangita, the most traditional appearing character in the novel, who teaches Dimple about finding ones true self - about identity fusion and finding a way to bridge her Indian and her American selves.

To add to all this, Sangita's sister Kavita, who came out to Dimple in Born Confused, is determined to now come out to her parents as a lesbian, as well.  But when her ex Sabina shows up in Bombay, well, things get interesting…

The story lines in Bombay Blues are actually quite simple, just as they were in Born Confused.  It is a story about journeys - internal and external journeys in search of 'home.'  And that is just what gets interrogated in this novel - the idea of what and where home is.

I loved Dimple in Born Confused and the way she took the reader along on her coming of age journey. In Bombay Blues, Dimple again invites us to ride along in rick, tuk tuk, on foot or by taxi through the maze that is Bombay, narrating her story using the same funny, deprecating, sarcastic stream of consciousness thinking as before, but with a difference.  Two years has given her stream of consciousness a more mature feeling, so her language is much more lyrical with incredible alliteration, wonderful word play, and poetic imagery.

Hidier holds the reader spellbound as she perfectly catches all the tensions, all the confusions, all the jealousies, all the happiness that make up a novel about family, friendships, relationships, identity.  All the while, she conjures up the sight, sounds and smells of Bombay, creating a lovely aromatic and musical reading experience.

If you haven't read Born Confused, that doesn't mean you can't read Bombay Blues.  It does work as a stand alone novel since you are given enough information to be able to understand how Dimple has arrived at where she is in the beginning of this second novel.

And, it is another big book - my copy of Born Confused is 432 pages, Bombay Blues comes in at 560 pages, so they are an investment in time.  But if you stick to it, to the end, you will be rewarded with a reading experience you won't soon forget.  Besides, don't you just love the name Dimple Lala?

This novel is recommended for readers age 14+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

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