Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: Abroad at Home

Desijournal was a lively website that addressed an Indian-American audience. Its articles were about the every day immigrant concerns with the observations and ironies of American life, as well as movie and book updates. Actually, I had a few book reviews published on their site when they were thriving. Coincidentally, I get to review the heart of Desijournal now.

Though the website is now defunct, the editor Nandini Pandya was able to lasso over 30 essays and short stories into a collection, Abroad at Home. It’s definitely an atypical collection because of the variance of work included. It begins with articles profiling Indian-Americans doing remarkable work, such as an active duty female soldier, a late-life artist and a Unitarian minister. There are personal essays covering topics from relationships with religion, parenting roles, as well as interactions with American society. There are some fictional stories and "Cab Driver" stands out in my mind.

Because some of these essays were originally online articles, they don’t have the polished type of writing one expects in such a collection. I enjoyed the stories, but I felt they could be stronger and more honed. On the other hand, the casual openness draws the reader, as if they were friends having a discussion. Some writers take a humorous view of certain situations. After reading a few stories, I was inclined to check out the authors’ websites, such as “Heartcrossings."

By the way, there is a different dimension to this publication effort. The articles started on the internet in an interactive forum. They were pulled together into a published book, the tangible form of the stories, which one carries. And, now the website promoting the book allows readers to comment on specific works in the books. Therefore, it's come full circle. Writing and reading are not solitary activities, but connected.

While this collection focuses on Indian immigrant experience, I've always felt the US immigrant experience is shared among ethnic communities. While the traditions and languages may be different, the culture shock and ideological struggles are always there. A thread of guilt runs through immigrants who feel as if they're giving up parts of themselves to become someone new. At what point do you feel you are you home?

It's also worth mentioning that the authors portray a more mature and more recent point of view of the immigrant experience. That extends it outreach, too. It's not just Indian parents who worry about their children becoming infatuated with designer labels. And, for the non immigrants, this would give them a different perspective on the Indian consultant in the corner cubicle.


J.Doe said...

A lot of immigrant experiences are not only shared among different US communities but also internationally among all immigrants. I was an immigrant in a foreign country for a few years and my husband was not. Now he is the immigrant and I am not, yet many of our experiences were/are the same. Kind of a cool thing because that leads to a complete understanding in our relationship.

Indigo B. said...

That's a nice twist to the story where you both had that experience. While I haven't been an immigrant myself and undergone certain experiences, I do understand the immigrant mindset and have a respect for it.