Acker, Jennifer. “The Limits of the World”, Delphinium, 2019.
Coming to America
The Chandaria family came to America from the Indian-enclave of Nairobi and have done very well in this country. Premchand, the father, is a doctor who has worked very hard to grow his practice and provide security for his family ; Urmila, his wife, has a business importing artisanal Kenyan crafts; Sunil, their son, who was studying pre-med changed his mind about his studies and was accepted to a PhD program in philosophy at Harvard. Sunil’s parents have kept a very important secret from him and that is that his cousin, Bimal, is actually his older brother. When this previously hidden history is revealed by an accident, the family is forced to return to Nairobi. Then we learn that Sunil has his own secret: his Jewish-American girlfriend, who accompanied him to Kenya, is, not his girlfriend but his wife.
Jennifer Acker takes us through four generations of the Chandaria family and to three different continents as we examine cultural divisions and ethical considerations that indeed shape (but should not) the ways in which we judge one another’s actions. There is something to be gained here and I believe it has to do with two explosive secrets in one family. We certainly see how we do not allow ourselves to understand those we are the closest to.
I am amazed that this is Jennifer Acker’s first novel, everything just flows beautifully. I remember those great novels like “Call It Sleep” and the works of Shalom Asch that were studies of families over time that were all the vogue when I was younger. I love imagining that I was part of the family I was reading about. What Acker does here is empathize with her characters. We see codes of morality as well as family cultures that are both thrilling and endearing. While, quite basically, this is the story of a family, it is also a look at how we miscommunicate. We look at what is considered to be ethical behavior and find that there are holes in what is considered ethical. Here is a look at belonging—to a country, to a people, o a family and to a lover. To truly understand this, we need strong characters and that is what we get here. Acker has drawn amazing characters and an original story and it is only natural for us to feel we are part of their world.
Since the world we live in is now global, we see that the only borders that we have are ours; the ones that we impose on others and ourselves. In looking at generational conflict, culture clashes, and immigrant assimilation here, we are also looking at ourselves, whether we want to admit it or not. The limitations of the world today are those that we put there. Being a philosopher by career, I found so much to think about here and it does help that the prose is beautiful and sublime.