Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!
It is the best of times… it is the worst of times. It is the time of unremitting nonsense. It is the time of sobering reality. It is a time of despair, it is a time for hope. Which means it’s a perfect time for this gorgeous, gorgeous book.
Synopsis: Bengali sisters Tara and Sonia Das both want different things – Tara, to finally fit in to her place, Sonia, to have a moment — a moment — to herself to breathe, and write and think. With the help of their indulgent father and traditional mother, Tara fulfills her need to blend, first in London, then in the U.S. by calling on her vivid acting skills to inhabit and embody someone else. Sonia escapes to the fire escape with her notebook. Each girl’s way of coping and acclimating to being an immigrant means stepping away from what they knew in London, and becoming someone new, even as they defend, in each other, what makes them who they are. Tara relies on her acting skills, as Sonia loses herself in her gifted classes. Family, even one as closely knit as the immigrant Das family has to be, is a sometimes fragile boat, and the expectations and stresses of the desire for a “good life” begin to feel like they’re going to swamp it — but finally as things work out, life in America seems sweeter. They finally live out their nicknames of “Sunny and Star” and have learned from living in Flatbush, have gained experiences and lost prejudices and gone where their parents cannot follow. Meanwhile, after tough times, their parents experience a renewal of their love – and Dad receives the promotion of which he spoke. The family ship remains upright and watertight — and then, capsizes.
As Sonia and Tara leave home, each trying to rediscover her equilibrium, college brings more challenges and changes. There, they still grapple with who they are, and how they present themselves as both South Asians and Americans, as young woman and feminists. Each girls takes a a different track, which leads them into vastly different directions – one to small stages, then larger ones, then finally, to Mumbai; one straight back to Flatbush. Generations follow, each looking at their culture, language, and traditions with different eyes. When we are old, and when we are young, we are still challenged by how the world sees us, and must grapple with the questions of who we are, and who we want to be. What do we keep, that our families give us? What do we let fade away? What do we change to better suit ourselves? These are the heartfelt, crucial questions and observations the reader is confronted with, through three generations of shared sisterhood, culture, faith, and friendships.
Observations: With a shiny four starred reviews so far, we’re very, very pleased to have had a chance to read and review our friend Mitali Perkins’ latest book. (Also, Tanita is SUPER STOKED to have won it in a Goodreads giveaway – because THAT NEVER HAPPENS.) The beauty of having a hard copy of this book is the ability to pass it on. It could be given to a young adult — but also to an older reader; the generational saga is beautifully inclusive. The jacket copy of this book uses the word “timeless,” and though the eras and continents are distinctly laid out on the page, there is an element of “everyone”-ness that could make this story about any time, any lineage of women in any culture. It’s a gifted rendering of what could be a very personal story – because there seem to be hints of autobiographical storytelling included – into something deeply universal.
I got choked up, laughed aloud, and became vexed with and for various characters at various times. Many teens will relate, both biracial and not — to feeling pressure from family matriarchs who want their grand babies to be juuuust like them, despite the passage of time and eras. Questions of what beauty is, what womanhood means in feminist contexts and who best embodies these roles are things which the young and old women in this book encounter repeatedly. When Chantal’s grandmothers join forces, they become TRULY their best selves. When the American cousin and the Mumbai cousins stop trying to change each other into being more or less immigrant or American, and truly see each other as they are – both, – the Das family remains unstoppable – strong, beautiful, and full of love that radiates to the world. Nosy aunties, scolding mothers, tsking uncles; Catholics, Hindus, atheists and all — you’ll want three generations of Das women to be your family, too.
Conclusion: This, more than anything, is a love story. How we love our sisters. How we love our families. How we love our cultures. How we hold each – and ourselves – lovingly, to a standard that says, ‘we must improve. We must expand. We must be better than we were.’ This is a love story about how we love those who are like us, and can come to loves those who are unlike us. It is a love story to hope, and the belief that, though we came from some distant then, now that we are here, we can choose to bring the old into the new, and love will ground and equal out the equation. We each of us inherits prejudices and circumstances; through our generations, we each can choose to leave those behind, and walk into a new world.
And I cannot articulate to you just how much I needed to have this book in my hand today.
It is lyrical, poetically beautiful writing, with realistic teen voices. It is a feminist book, about equal rights and inclusiveness without feeling like you’re being schooled. Full stop: this is just a really great book, and I hope you have a chance to pick it up. It’s worth it.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Goodreads Giveaway. You can find YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by Mitali Perkins at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!