Minal Hajratwala’s Leaving India is a fascinating history that kept me up late into the night–and I suspect it will do the same for most readers. Filled with amazing and compelling family stories, it will strike a chord in anyone whose people have come from elsewhere–and today, in America, that’s most of us! I am filled with admiration at Minal’s honesty and the careful beauty of her language. I learned so much, through the story of this one family, about the tragedies and triumphs of the Indian diaspora.
Chitra is best known as a novelist now, and was one of the first South Asian American authors to draw a mainstream readership. However, I first encountered her as a poet, through her books The Reason for Nasturtiums, Black Candle, and Leaving Yuba City. I still return to those poems over and over, and feel that she is one of the writers from whom I learned the power of “the careful beauty” of language.
For much of her early material she drew from her work as an activist and organizer. I was inspired by the story of how she founded Maitri, one of the first organizations in the U.S. to serve South Asian women suffering from domestic violence, who often face culture-specific issues and are not well-served by mainstream d.v. organizations.
Chitra is also one of the most generous writers I know. I remember being just barely 25, with a couple of poems published in obscure literary journals to my credit, and somehow getting invited to a “book party” at her house. She invited everyone who came to bring their own books/journals/anthologies/zines/publications of any sort, and set them up all around the house. It was a lovely validation for me as an emerging writer, and I still think of that event as a touchstone for me, a model for doing the work while remembering to celebrate and stay connected with a wider artistic community.
Told with the probing detail of a reporter, the fluid voice of a poet and the inspired vision of a young woman who walks in many worlds, Hajratwala’s story offers an engaging account of what may be one of the fastest-growing diasporas in the world.
Here’s a link to the online review (scroll way down or search). You can’t tell there, but in the print version, it’s packaged tastefully with a review of a book by another South Asian American journalist,The Music Room by Namita Devidayal, which I’ll be interested in checking out. My review is one long paragraph (their standard length) and contains an error, saying that I’m a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News (I did work there for eight years, but left in 2000). Oh well.
More important than what the review says is that it has a little red star next to it. Hoorah! A “starred” review in PW is supposed to be like a little magic wand, making everyone starry-eyed over a book. (Ha. Luckily the sales aren’t riding on the quality of my a.m. blog puns.) My publisher now gets to say “PW starred review” in everything they send out about the book, and supposedly the star increases our chances of media coverage and local bookstore sales.
I think everyone should get to start their week with a little red star.