Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: Other Waters by Eleni Gage

When the culture a child is raised in is very different than the one in which her parents were raised, it is bound to cause some friction as much literature dealing with immigrants and first and second generations attests. But does this disconnect or balancing act between two cultures get any easier when the younger generation gets a bit older and has the perspective to see and understand the older generation's opinions and beliefs? The dichotomy of belonging to two very different cultures, the desire for familial approval, and finding love and acceptance are all key themes running through Eleni Gage's newest novel, Other Waters.

Maya is a psychiatry resident living in New York City. Her life is happily settled. She enjoys her chosen field. She has a great boyfriend. And her family is close and loving. The one fly in the ointment is that she is downright reluctant to introduce her boyfriend Scott to her family as anything other than a friend because he is very obviously not Indian and she knows that a non-Hindi boyfriend would certainly upset her parents. But her inability to acknowledge her relationship with Scott takes a back seat to other aspects of her life when her beloved grandmother in India dies. Dadiji's death not only sets Maya a bit adrift, but a property dispute with a house servant brings down a curse on Maya's family. And even though Maya is an American, a doctor, an almost psychologist, and a pragmatist, when terrible things start to plague her family members, she can't help but wonder if this Brahmin curse could possibly be real.

When Maya goes to India with her best friend Heidi for her cousin's wedding, she is determined to defuse the power this curse has over her and her family's life. As she searches for Parvati, the girl who uttered the curse, Maya is also on a search for her own authentic self, the woman who is both Indian and American and can honor both parts of her life openly and proudly. Maya and Heidi's journey through India is beautifully drawn and enthralling. The heavily laden tradition and ritual that they encounter is completely beguiling, allowing Maya to better understand her cultural heritage and the place that resonates so deeply for her parents despite their longtime life in Kalamazoo, MI. The trip to India marks a new beginning for Maya, one in which she can start to integrate what she wants with what her family wants for her.

There is a whole cast of characters in this novel, some more fully drawn than others. Maya herself can come across as quite immature for the thirty year old woman she is. Despite her psychiatry background and the therapy she is undergoing as part of her degree, she certainly dosn't allow herself to know her own innermost thoughts and feelings very well. But this changes as the book progresses and while she still makes some questionable decisions, she is coming much closer to being able to be happy in her own skin. Being torn between two cultures can't possibly be easy, especially when the two cultures are as different as traditional Hindi culture and mainstream American culture, and Gage has presented the dichotomy clearly and fairly. She's captured the essence of generational differences and the difficulty (and sometimes the unadvisedness) of assimilation. With appealing characters and settings that shine and although the ending is rather a let down, simply ending without any sort of closure, this novel was a good and solid read that I quite enjoyed.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book to review.

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