Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel

Title:  The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel
Author:  Mira Jacob
Publication Information:  Random House. 2014. 512 pages.
ISBN:  0812994787 / 978-0812994780

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "It's easy to look back with rosey-posey glasses when you live on the other side of the earth itself, nah? But those of us that live here, we have to deal with realities, you see. So it's quite different for us."

Thomas and Kamala Eapen are immigrants to the United States. They left India in search of a better life. Their children Amina and Akhil are born and raised in New Mexico. They feel the pull of their parent's desire to hold on to the Indian culture and their desire to fit into the adoptive home. Back in India are the family Thomas and Kamala left behind.

We meet the Eapen family at three crucial junctures in their lives.

First, we meet them in the 1970s as they return to India for a visit. They return to Thomas's childhood  home where his mother continues to live with Thomas's brother and his family. Thomas's mother still hopes that Thomas will one day return "home." The gaps and the tensions between the family are revealed, in particular the idea of those who leave and those who are left. Harsh words are said that can never be remedied. The guilt of those words continues to haunt the Eapens long after.

Then, we meet the Eapens in their Albuquerque home in the 1980s. The children are growing up. Friends have become family. The future looks promising. Yet, tensions exists. These tensions are exacerbated by a huge tragedy, "a grief so profound it can bring people closer to the dying than the living."

In the 1990s, we see Amina, an independent young woman forging her own path in Seattle. We see the pull of her mother as she tries to have Amina come "home" and follow a path that she deems suitable. In this way, the struggle is the same as it was between Thomas and his mother, the pull of "home" and the need of a child to create his or her own destiny. However, a phone call from her mother expressing concern from Thomas's health quickly pulls Amina home. It brings her face to face with the tragedies of the past and how they continue to impact her family in the present.

Then, of course, there is the cryptic title of the book. Sleepwalking medically is a low state of consciousness in which a person performs tasks they would normally perform in a fully conscious state. This story has a character who is a literal sleepwalker. Yet, is this a figurative commentary on the way many people live their lives - going through the motions but not truly present in the moment?

That is pretty much what I found myself doing throughout this book. For some reason, the book did not pull me into its world. I really thought it would. As a first generation immigrant, I expected to relate to the emotions and situations. I did enjoy reading about the immigrant experience described in the book. However, that aspect ended up being a relatively small component of the story.

I am not entirely sure why I did not become immersed in the book. My reaction is that it was simply too much. From Thomas' memories to Kamala's wishes for Amina. From Amina's secret photographs to her photograph that gains her notoriety. From accidents to illnesses. From family to friends. From the past to the present. For me, it is all too much - too much going on in the over 500 pages of this story to fully appreciate any one aspect of the story. I feel pulled in too many different directions without being able to fully explore any of them.

An intriguing reading experience, but for me, ultimately not a completely satisfying one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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