Harper Collins August 2018
Three unlikely companions.
A trip of a lifetime.
Unexpected truths just waiting to be discovered.
Recently-widowed Pival Sengupta (first time in America, first time travelling alone, first time defying any sort of convention), her tour guide, Satya (Bangadeshi but pretending to be Bengalis, doesn’t really know anything about America), and her modesty companion, Rebecca (headstrong and modern, an aspiring / failing actress who needs to get out of her rut) are on a cross country tour from New York to Los Angeles. Billed as a tour of America, Pival has a secret agenda: to find out the truth about her long-estranged son.
As they journey from one tourist hotspot (Niagara Falls, New Orleans) to another (the Corning Museum of Glass), and their preconceptions about each other and about America are challenged, this unlikely trio might just make it – and, with a little beginners luck, learn how to live again.
Firstly huge thanks to Harper Collins for sending me a copy of the book. As I was spending a couple of days in America this book struck me as a perfect travelling companion… and it was.
A motley crew of characters venture on this voyage across America, all with their own hopes, for the trip and in life. While this was an entertaining and enjoyable book it had some sad themes at its heart. For Rebecca, the decision to take the job as companion brings about some learning and insight about her dreams of being an actress. And the tour guide Satya – comically trying to perform as a competent expert on America, despite having very little knowledge, is carrying a heavy load of guilt with him bought about by his struggle to survive in America. Pival is escaping India, recently widowed and estranged from her son due to a cultural clash of beliefs, unsure of his whereabouts but with an American address. All three characters are well written and formed and their journey makes for an interesting and compelling read.
This book while exploring hopes and dreams also brings together two contrasting cultures. Pival’s experiences are limited to her home life in India, as a wife in an affluent family, in contrast to Rebecca’s very different and ‘freer’ life having grown up in the USA. Through Pival’s curiosity the differences are explored in a sensitive manner, experiences and conversation help to aid learning.
Without giving anything away this road trip of a book is not without purpose for Pival and while the journey was fabulous the ending was wonderful, full of healing and recovery. Sensitively written throughout, while also tackling some difficult issues, I must confess I did shed a tear or two as this book drew to a satisfying close, leaving me feeling somehow slightly wiser from the experience.
About the Author
Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University. She is a playwrite and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award. A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Leah lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. America for Beginners is her first novel.