Satyal, Rakesh. “No One Can Pronounce My Name: A Novel”, Picador, 2017.
Immigrants and Outsiders, Passions and Fears
Set in a suburb near Cleveland, Ohio, Rakesh Satyal brings us the story of outsiders— Indian/Americans who try to find their place not only in American society but also in their own families.
Our characters are on the fence between their two cultures. America can be a bewildering and alienating place and it is upsetting that coworkers can’t pronounce your name but will eagerly repeat the Sanskrit phrases they learn in yoga class. Harit, is a an Indian immigrant in his mid-forties and lives with his mother who has been having a rough time since Harit’s sister, Swati died. Harit tries to keep both his mother and himself sane by wearing a sari every night and passing himself off as his sister. Ranjana, another Indian immigrant also in her mid-forties, has just seen her only child, Prashant, off to college and she is worried that her husband has begun an affair and so she seeks solace by secretly writing paranormal romances. When Harit and Ranjana’s paths cross, they begin a strange yet necessary friendship that helps their passions and fears.
Love comes in all kinds of way and here we see it as unpredictable. Satyai writes about being who you think you are and who you just might become. His characters are wonderful and pull you into the story as you both laugh and cry with them. It seems that human nature is about wanting to belong and we see how others deal with that here. This is a multigenerational novel that shares wisdom about life. For those of us who were born in America, we learn about this country being one of strangers seeking connections, opposing desires yet held together with the very strong emotion of love. It is challenging to be an individual where society and culture have already determined who we should be and we cheer for our characters who challenge that. Ranjana and Harit find each other and learn to reconcile their culture and traditions with their own dreams and desires.