Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Review of The Sleepwalker's Guide To Dancing By Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob blew me away. I had heard it was good, but I actually checked this book out of the library several times before tackling it. It’s long (500 pages), and it’s a debut novel. The mix of these two qualities often yields a less-than-ideal reading experience.

But, wow. I was captivated. This is a story about an Indian-American family that settles in New Mexico. They have ties to a large, complicated extended family in India, and they are simultaneously drawn back “home” and drawn to an increasing sense of themselves as Americans. What results is a book about dislocation (and maybe, ultimately, about belonging).

The main character is the daughter/granddaughter in the family, and we alternate between her adult life in Seattle in the 1990s and her adolescence in New Mexico in the 1980s. The daughter receives a call from her mother saying that her father is acting strangely. In particular, he is talking to his own mother at night, though his mother died years ago. The mystery of what is going on with the father opens up a story of ghosts of all kinds, including the ghosts of homeland and identity and the ghosts of unresolved expectations.

This is the kind of book that I seek out – a big family drama that’s both easy to read and full of ideas to consider. In so many ways, this is my ideal “beach book” or “summer read.” I know that most people would choose something sandy or silly or light, but I gravitate toward really compelling books that draw me in with complicated characters and leave me full at the end. (I suppose it's a little early in the year to be thinking about summer, but I can dream, can't I?)

The author’s description of her own family suggests that there are a lot of autobiographical dimensions to this novel. You can read an interesting article about her real family here.

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