America for Beginners
by Franqui, Leah

A widow from India travels to California to learn the truth about what happened to the son who was declared dead shortly after he revealed his sexual orientation to their traditional family. A first novel. 40,000 first printing.

Pival Sengupta has a secret reason for booking a trip to America. The Indian widow has arranged for a tour starting in New York and seeing the country's sights while working her way to her ultimate destination, Los Angeles, where she intends to confront the man she believes stole her son from her. Her guide, a young man from Bangladesh, and the struggling American actress who will chaperone the pair have no idea of Pival's intentions. But as they travel together and almost unwittingly come to learn more about each other, this unlikely trio begins to form bonds that transcend their different backgrounds. Franqui deftly juggles her characters' competing perspectives, mining small moments in the narrative for larger insights into cultural and personal differences. As they travel west, each character is making an internal journey as well, which is a delight to watch unfold. This is a humorous and heartfelt excursion into the promise that America represents, to both natives and immigrants, and an emotional examination of what that promise means in practice. Copyright 2018 Booklist Reviews.

A Bengali widow embarks on a road trip of the U.S. with a Bangladeshi guide and a young American woman. When Pival Sengupta's husband dies, leaving her alone in their Kolkata house, what she mainly feels is relief. Ram had been a difficult, angry man who blamed his wife for all his woes. The most difficult of these had to do with their son, who moved to Los Angeles to study marine biology and, before long, called home to come out to his parents. He's then effectively cut out of their lives. When Ram dies, Pival, who has never left Kolkata, decides to invest in a two-week tour of the United States, ending in LA. She'll get to know the country her son loved before reconnecting with him—if he's still alive; he might not be. To help with her trip, Pival enlists the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, which sets her up with Satya, a naïve young Bangladeshi guide who's always hungry, and, for modesty's sake, a female companion named Rebecca. The thre e then set out on a road trip, chock full of all the tacky tourist traps, cultural clashes, and sappy heart-to-hearts you can imagine. This is Franqui's first novel, and it's tolerable, if not utterly original. She engages in quite a few road trip-novel clichés as well as greenhorn-in-America stereotypes. Worse, she has a habit of overexplaining her characters' inner lives. She writes, for example, that "Ram's authority destroyed Pival's own sense of herself and replaced it with a version that Ram created." This had already been clear; it doesn't need to be spelled out. Still, the book is occasionally charming and occasionally engaging; despite everything, you'll want to find out what happens in the end. Clichés and overexplaining get in the way of the humor and genuine sentiment that this novel strains toward.< Copyright Kirkus 2018 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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