Thursday, December 29, 2016
Review: The Golden Son
Shilpi Somaya Gowda
William Morrow Paperbacks
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Harper Collins Purchase Link
Barnes & Noble Purchase Link
The Golden Son is one of the last books I read in 2016, and definitely one of the best books I read this year. This is one of those rare books that satisfies the reader in every way: the story is engrossing and immersive; the scope of the novel is satisfyingly large, yet the reader doesn't get lost among a cast of minor characters; and most importantly, the ending is both gratifying and convincing. How many times have you finished a book, loving everything except the ending? This is a book that will make you neglect your family, ignore your friends, and finally get off of social media!
Shilpi Somaya Gowda has published one other novel, Secret Daughter. For this, her second novel, she seems to have poured everything she ever knew or observed about life into a single book. I've always loved books about the immigrant experience, and The Golden Son explores this territory with the story of Anil Patel, the oldest son of an important farming family in a small village in western India. Anil is on his way to fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor when he lands a coveted residency in Dallas, Texas, where he finds himself tested in entirely new ways. He struggles to make sense of a system and a country where he initially feels excluded and unequipped. Eventually Anil starts to find his way, but struggles to balance his sense of duty to India and his family with his new responsibilities and demands at the hospital.
As he is adjusting to his new country and to the competitive atmosphere at the hospital, Anil becomes the arbiter of disputes for his village. As Gowda creates the world of the hospital, and captures the exhaustion and disorientation of Anil, she also creates the world of rural India, where Anil's childhood friend Leena is preparing for her marriage to a man she has barely spoken to.
Without melodrama or condescension, Gowda portrays the life of the villagers who live by a caste system, and live according to ancient laws and patterns. Leena leaves her beloved parents after some negotiations, and goes to a place remote from everyone and everything she has ever known. When the marriage and her new husband shatter Leena's dreams, she is isolated, frightened, and left with a difficult choice. How Leena's dilemma is resolved, and where Anil fits into the solution, is just one of the important plot developments in this novel about culture, tradition, and change.
The Golden Son offers a satisfying cultural immersion in two different worlds: the world of the immigrant adjusting to life in America, and the world of a changing India. Gowda creates a panoramic landscape that includes both worlds, and the places where those worlds intersect. This is a beautifully written novel that satisfies the reader on so many levels: the characters, the well-realized settings, and the intersecting plots. Highly recommended.