16 November, 2012

#BookReview :: Return to India by Shoba Narayan

Return to India is a brilliant and powerful memoir about what it means to be an immigrant in a foreign country and what propels immigrants to return to their homeland. Following in the tradition of her first book, Monsoon Diary: a memoir with recipes, award-winning author, Shoba Narayan explores themes of family, culture and identity. In vivid and heartfelt prose, Shoba Narayan describes the trajectory of her immigrant life?from the salty plains of South India to the high rises of New York and Boston. From the exhilarating thrill of being a new immigrant to becoming an angst-ridden mother grappling with hyphenated identities, Narayan describes the life of an immigrant with humor and insight. She talks about why she yearned for America and became a citizen of the land she would ultimately leave. Return to India is about love and loss; about family and identity; and about the quest for a place called home. It is a powerful story about the costs of chasing the American dream and the complications of returning to your homeland. Rich in detail and empathetic in tone, this book will resonate with immigrants and diaspora from all cultures.

The Storyline: It was with hopes of freedom and dreams of glamour that Shoba Narayan had ventured to America, where she pursued her post graduate education. From her initial plans of a Masters in psychology and finally getting a degree in sculpture, Shoba experiences a lot of things that would have been impossible in her life at Madras. After the university phase, comes the marriage phase where she agrees to an arranged marriage to Ram. Life did take a certain turn from then. But the more drastic changes in her can be related to her ‘motherhood’ phase – if I can call it that. It was the birth of her daughter that made way to her questioning her choices and decisions.

The Characterization: The advantage of a memoir is that the characters are all real identities. Mostly it is easy to identify them and take the journey with them. They all have good and bad sides and their own quirks. This case was no different. Shoba has masterfully created the characters and provided enough fodder for the readers to ‘know’ the people in her life. She has been quite candid about herself too.

Writing Style: I quite enjoyed reading the Authors easy language punctuated with a good sense of humour. 

What I feel: It is nothing new – the idea of an Indian youth wanting to get away from the clutches of the conservative culture, the ever judging society and the overbearing and strict parents. We have all been through that ‘I-can’t-wait-till-I-can-get-out-of-here’ phase ourselves in our mid-teens to early twenties. For some it is the lure of freedom, for some it means better opportunities, for some it’s their dream while for some it’s just the lure of the unfamiliar. I know it well. Growing up in a joint-family in Kolkata (then Calcutta), with fairly open-minded family, I couldn’t wait to get away from the city. I think for me it was the lure of ‘independence’. That was a time frame when friends, social life and career were all I cared about. Now that I have spent a number of years enjoying that ‘independence’, have married and settled down in South India, my way of interpreting life and my priorities have changed. Now I often wish that everyone in our generation could stay in a single city so that instead of seeing my nieces and nephews growing up through their pictures on social networking sites, I could actually be a part of that growing up. 

I know I was basically ranting there, but I just wanted to let you know that even though my life is very different from the Author’s, I still feel and understand her feelings and decisions. It was like seeing myself through a coloured glass – different yet still the same. No, I didn’t always agree with her decisions and yes, at times I felt certain narration was overdone, but it is her story that she has narrated in her own unique way.

So it is safe to say that, no matter who you are and what is your life like, you will be able to relate to this story because at the end of the day this book is about the journey of a young girl to becoming a mother, from seeing the life as a party ground to seeing life as an adult who is responsible for another life. It is all about maturing through the years, adjusting to whatever life has to offer and seeing your priorities change. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed this journey with Shoba and enjoyed living her life through these pages. I hope that others will too.

PS: Not that I put much weight on cover designs, but I think the 'Airmail' design is just brilliant!


  1. Great Review and I thought the cover was nostalgic and as you say BRILLIANT! I have a cool Giveaway Debdatta swing by if you get a chance
    M.C.V. Egan

  2. Great review. I will definitely try this one out.