America for Beginners: Book summary and reviews of America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners

A Novel

by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui X
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Jul 24, 2018
    320 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival's husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company's indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pavil's guide is the company's new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty's sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she's along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren't always the ones we seek.

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Reader Reviews

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Judith S. (Binghamton, NY)

Best Read 0f 2018
America for Beginners is the best book I've read this year. Leah Frangui immediately engages the reader in this road trip novel. The author deftly places the reader in the mind of each character which adds depth to the story. The book is at once witty, incisive, compassionate and relevant in our time. The reader with laugh, cry, think and even enjoy a little mystery. Readers who have enjoyed "A Man Called Ove" and AJ Fikry will be delighted with this book. Kudos for a first novel.

Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Engaging and Riveting!
A charmingly heartrending story that will soothe your soul as three strangers on a road trip across America find themselves discovering there is more to the journey than just the tourist sites. One of the most appealing aspects of this storyline is the engaging and sympathetic characters who each had lost something that set then on their paths to figuring out their American Dream. This a beautifully executed debut novel where the dissimilar group of characters showcases the similarities among people as individuals and as members of the human race. A rich rewarding read for those looking an insightful and big-hearted tale.

Linda J. (Ballwin, MO)

America For Beginners
If you have ever wondered what America might look like for those immigrating from India, then Leah Franqui's debut novel, "America For Beginners," will provide some insight, good and no-so-much.

After her abusive husband's death, wealthy Indian widow Pival Sengupta decides to come to America and find her son, Rahi, not knowing if he is dead or alive.

Rahi had come to America after his father threw him out of the house when Rahi told him he was gay, then the father received a telephone call from a man telling him Rahi had died, but Pival refuses to accept the news.

She leaves her cloistered existence and books a trip with the First Class India AAA Destination Vacation Tour Company, a haphazard company run by Ronnie Munshi, himself an immigrant wanting a piece of the American dream.
He hires a guide and a "companion for modesty's sake" for Pival. Neither of these hires has the slightest idea of what their duties will entail.

Pival's guide, Satya, has been in America one year and knows nothing of life outside of the five boroughs of New York.
Satya's best friend who came with him has disappeared after Satya took a job that his friend wanted. Now he feels guilty and spends hours trying to find him.

The "companion" is Rebecca Elliott, a young aspiring actress who has more one-night stands than acting parts. She needs the money and figures a two-week working vacation is the answer. "How hard could it be?" she thinks.

Unbeknownst to the group, Pival's trip is not for sightseeing, but to travel to Los Angeles to find Rahi, and, failing that, she will commit suicide.

Satya's attempts to act like he knows what he's doing promotes eye-rolling from Rebecca who tries to explain what they are seeing, even though she herself is not an expert.

Munshi has planned a rigid trip for each stop, right down to the Comfort Inns and Indian restaurants which cannot compare to the food Pival had at home, and her distaste is obvious.

Readers follow the travelers from New York (which Pival describes as "being inside a fireworks display") to Niagara Falls, to Philadelphia, to Washington DC where they have an impromptu, and disastrous, dinner with Rebecca's parents.

Pival imagines Rahi traveling to these same places and wonders what he found so enticing about this country. She grapples with his homosexuality, and thinks, "Perhaps he really was dead or perhaps he would be there in the end, waiting for her, and he would leave the strange man who had enslaved him with desire and run away with her."

The three unlikely travelers slowly form a bond, almost without realizing it, and begin to learn more about themselves.

Franqui interweaves Rahi's story and how he falls in love with Jake, a less than perfect relationship because Rahi never fully accepts or understands his being gay.

The book is a perfect balance of description and narrative which, I believe, kept the plot moving along at a good pace in telling the story of the characters coming to know each other and opening their hearts to recognize the sorrows, joys, and fallibilities that people all over the world experience.

I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Laura G. (Buffalo, NY)

Discovering at all ages
This book is a fascinating way to show that people of all ages and backgrounds are able to learn and discover throughout life and despite circumstances. This author has done a wonderful job of bringing an odd group of people together with a common goal. In their travels they learned about each other, their surroundings and themselves. I was particularly impressed by the use of water throughout the book. It was present in so many important ways. I'm sure an English teacher would have a lot to say about it. America for Beginners will be my next book recommendation to book club so that I can further explore it with friends.

Melissa S. (Rowland, NC)

Coming Of Age At Any Age
"America For Beginners" by Leah Franqui is a smooth read. Franqui's characters are all dealing with their own set of heartache, expectations, and reality. Even though the main characters come from completely different walks of life, their stories are intertwined in a way that is both beautiful and flows effortlessly. This novel is an easy weekend read that will leave you wishing there were more. I found myself rooting for all the characters to not only find their peace, but hopefully with each other too. Franqui succeeds in introducing the reader to the Indian culture, although I think much of the references were lost on the average American reader. The anecdotal American scenes on their journey are quite humorous and surprisingly, add to the novel.

I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good read that easily captures and holds for a weekend. Since this novel does focus on adults (both youngish and older) coming of age through their journey, I would recommend it to adult readers more so than young adult. I feel the heartache is more palpable to someone who has lived life and experienced heartache that only comes from relationships with both positive and negative people over time. Pival proves that it's never too late to take back the control you may have given others.

Diane W. (Lake Villa, IL)

Read this in one sitting!
I was immediately caught up in this book's narrative, as well as the complex, likable characters. Very different from any book I've read before. Great storyline. My emotions ran from sad to amused. Definitely a recommendation!

...17 more reader reviews

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Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award. Leah, a Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai.

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