Sunday, December 2, 2012

Book Review: Return To India by Shoba Narayan

Title: Return To India
Author: Shoba Narayan
Publisher: Rain Tree (Rupa Publications)
Pages: 269
Price: Rs 395
Genre: Non Fiction / Memoir
Rating: 9/10
Format: Hardbound

I read Mint Lounge, mostly because I love reading about culture, books, movies, urban life, etc. So I have read and enjoyed Shoba Narayan’s columns. When I first came across this book, I was completely charmed by its cover page. It evokes nostalgia. I noticed the author and the subject of the book, much later. And then, I just had to read it. Thanks to Blogadda, I did not have to wait for too long.

In ‘Return to India’, Shoba Narayan writes about her journey from being a young girl chasing American dream and better opportunities, to a mother caught in an emotional quagmire of how to provide the best of both countries (India and America) to her children. In the author’s words, ‘immigrant dilemma is at the heart of the book’.
The book begins with her pressing desire to escape from India and its many problems, to chase better opportunities in America, to live a better life and to become whatever she chooses to become. She had romantic notions about life and opportunities in America. And the book eventually tells us, they weren’t unfounded. Shoba achieves much more than she ever dreamt of and in fields she would have never explored in India.

However, the book is not so much about whether she gets the kind of opportunities she dreams of, rather it is about finding one’s identity. In that way, it also reminded me about ‘the Namesake’ by Jhumpa Lahiri. When she talks about her younger self, cajoling and convincing her parents and family to let her go abroad, she could be anyone of us. It mirrors the life of so many young people who leave their homes for education and better opportunities, whether for a different city or a different country [as she also mentions in the Prologue]. The angst of a parent is the same. The underlying fear that the child would never return, is the same.

America never fails her, with its wonderful people, myriad of opportunities, and a great lifestyle. For the 15 years of her life in America, first single and later married, she is never bothered by the weighty questions of identity and roots, culture and family. Only when she becomes a mother, she dreams of providing her daughter with the same kind of loving environment, familiar surroundings, loving grandparents, fussing relatives, as she had experienced while growing up. In India, people go out of their way to help relatives and friends even if it meant inconvenience for them. That is how we are raised and that is how we become.

Though she considered herself modern and adventurous, Shoba surprises herself by agreeing for arranged marriage. And later, as a mother, she is always consumed by thoughts of how to keep her children rooted in Indian culture while living in America. Life comes a full circle for her when she feels a similar kind of angst like her mother on the question of whether she would be okay if her daughter chooses to marry an American. She discovers that actually under the surface, she was quite traditional.

I loved the book. The author has a fresh voice, and her writing style is witty, particularly in the first half. She is a natural writer and draws the reader to the story well, never losing his attention. Although I did find the part on her dilemma of returning to India a bit long drawn but may be it actually was. Such decisions are not easy. For quite a long time, she goes back and forth on her decision, even till the last moment. The various conversations are interesting. Towards the first half of the book, she is particularly charming, adventurous and exciting, while toward the ending, perhaps because of the dilemma she was in, there is restlessness.

But all said and done, it is a fabulous book. There is something to which every reader would relate to whether it is the dreamy-eyed young girl or dynamic woman chasing opportunities, young students leaving home for education or those in 20s-and early 30s driven by ambition and passion, angst of a mother or the many challenges of parenthood! . Participate now to get free books!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Image source: Amazon


  1. Oh I requested this book quite late that I could not get hold of one...This was a great review...and I will surely pick it up whenever it comes up in my library.

    1. Hey, thanks. This must be the quickest review I ever did. Glad that you liked it. It is a good book indeed :-)

  2. Replies
    1. You did not review the book? I had seen your rating on goodreads

  3. As you've signed up for the *Tea & Books Reading Challenge* on my blog, here's just a little reminder that you've still got three more weeks to finish the challenge!
    Latest Update Post (plus Giveaway, yay) can be found here: