Monday, October 16, 2017

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

You Bring the Distant Near is a family story told in three parts, each covering a different time in the lives of five women.

Part One begins with a move. After living in Ghana and then London for a number of years, Rajeev Das gets a job in New York and moves his family, wife Ranee, daughters Tara and Sonia, into an apartment in Flushing, Queens. Though her daughters adjust to life in Flushing, Ranee is distrustful of the black kids who live in the neighborhood and wants to move. After a year in Queens, they move into a house in Ridgeford, New Jersey. 

Renee tries to hold on the some customary Bengali traditions, but her daughters quickly assimilate to life as Americans. Tara, the eldest daughter, wants to study theater, while Sonia’s interests lie more towards feminism and politics, aware of their parents desire for them to keep at least some of their Bengali cultural. 

Part Two begins after the tragic death of Rajeev. The Das family suddenly finds themselves at odds with each other, yet each painfully missing Rajeev. In high school, Sonia wins an all expenses paid trip to Paris, happy to get away from home. Fellow African American student Lou Johnson, handsome and friendly, has also won a spot on the trip, and although the two have always been at odds with each other in New Jersey, they quickly become friends in Paris. After college, Sonia and Lou marry, causing Ranee to completely stop speaking to Sonia.

Meanwhile, Tara pursues an acting career, while also being pursued by Amit Sen, a successful Bengali man. After refusing several marriage proposals because Amit had been picked for her by her parents, Tara finally says yes on a trip to India to spread her fathers ashes in the Ganges, and a visit to his childhood home. Tara continues with her acting career, becoming a famous actress/singer in India.

Part Three belongs to the daughters of Sonia and Tara. Chantel, or Shanti, has been raised in New York, living in Harlem with her parents, Lou and Sonia, and attending an exclusive private school on full scholarship. Anna, or Anu, has been living in Mumbai, and going school there. Now, though, she is in New York and in the same school as Shanti. Anu is not happy about the move. She is proud to be Bangali to the core, and considers Mumbai her real home. She has also inherited her grandmother's talent for sewing, even making and wearing her own salwar kameezes. 

You Bring the Distant Near is a compelling intergenerational story that is actually told more in a series of vignettes that sometimes skips over years, and yet, nothing is lost. Perkins has created five women, all seemingly so very different from each other and yet held together by their Bengali heritage, whether they embrace it or not. And it is a mark of Perkins talent as a writer that shows us the changes in each of these women over time and the events, both personal and public, that impact their lives. It is a slow, gentle novel, that more than once brought tears to my eyes.

The five female characters that Perkins has created are very well developed, truly finely tuned, but my personal favorite was Ranee. In Ranee, I saw my own father’s struggle to assimilate into American life while retaining his cultural identity. Ranee, like my dad, eventually finds the balance that works for her. And in that respect, Perkins has really captured the complexities of what being an immigrants means, as she explores the high cost and ways in which the Das family loses their cultural connections to their past and the ways in which they find redemption.

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was an EARC received at NetGalley

FYI: The title of this book comes from a poem which is printed at the beginning of the book. It was written by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), an Indian poet who also figures into the story of the Das family frequently. Tagore won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first Asian to do so. You can find more of his beautiful poetry at the Poetry Foundation HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment

Imagination Designs