Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: "No One Can Pronounce My Name" by Rakesh Satyal

Rakesh Satyal's second novel, No One Can Pronounce My Name, is a patchwork quilt of a book, where different but related threads come together into a gorgeous masterpiece. I read the entire book on a flight to the West Coast, and was dazzled not only by Satyal's beautiful prose, but the amazing amount of heart and joy he brought to his book.

Ranjana has just sent her only child off to college, and she wonders what she has to look forward to now. She's starting to suspect that her husband is having an affair, and she finds herself seeking solace in food. The only thing that truly gives her pleasure is the time she spends each night writing paranormal romance stories, but as much joy as they bring her, she's even too embarrassed to share the stories with the members of her writers' group!

Harit decided a long time ago he'd never be the type of man to marry and have the life everyone expects men to, and perhaps he was destined to be alone. After the sudden death of his beloved sister Swati, he and his elderly mother are consumed by grief. He begins dressing up in Swati's sari each night and pretending he is his sister, in an effort to help his nearly-blind mother find some comfort. The only time he leaves the house is to go to his job at a department store every day, and it is only through the efforts of his flamboyant coworker and friend, Teddy, that he even finds the strength to go out for a drink every now and again. (He doesn't actually find the strength at first; Teddy browbeats him into it.)

A series of events leads to Ranjana and Harit meeting in an unlikely place, and the two quickly strike up a friendship that surprises them both. Not only does Ranjana feel appreciated, needed, cared about, but she feels as if she is helping Harit in some way. And Harit feels that their friendship has finally allowed him to come to terms with so many things he has kept bottled up for so long, and perhaps realize that he is a special person and is worthy of being loved for who he is.

Friendship can be one of the most incredible gifts people give one another, not only for the companionship and confidences shared, but friendship often empowers people to feel they should pursue their dreams, and know that they have supporters behind them. To watch Ranjana and Harit both blossom under the light of their friendship, and realize the value of those around them where they had almost taken them for granted before is a beautiful thing, and one of the pieces I loved about this book.

While I've presented this as a fairly simple story, in Satyal's hands it has such depth, humor, emotion, and complexity that readers should discover for themselves. There is such nuance in his storytelling, and you can feel the love he has for his characters, even when they're acting in less-appealing ways.

I love books that surprise you, not necessarily with plot twists, but the way the author lets the book unfold, and pulls you in until you want nothing more than to spend more time with the characters, in the midst of the story they have created. That was the way I felt while reading No One Can Pronounce My Name. I felt as if I were a witness to all that occurred as a result of Ranjana and Harit's friendship, but more importantly, I felt lucky that Satyal took me on this journey. I felt his heart in this book alongside those of his characters.

The author and Picador Publishing provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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