The BookBrowse Review

Published January 22, 2020

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

Small Days and Nights
A Novel
by Tishani Doshi
21 Jan 2020
272 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN-13: 9781324005230
Genre: Novels
Critics:
Readers:
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BookBrowse members resident in the USA can request free review copies of books through our First Impressions program. Below are their opinions on one such book...

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Sharon P. (San Diego, CA)

Loved this sweet, melancholic novel
I love this type of book. Set in a far off locale, full of interesting tidbits of a different culture, and many interesting characters (and dogs). I could really visualize their life's unfolding on the beach near Madras. My only disappointment was that I couldn't visualize Lucia...I waited eagerly for more to be revealed about her; however, I was very pleased with the ever so flawed but tenuous Grace. She felt very real to me.

Highly recommended!
Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Irene H. (Saugerties, NY)

Small Days and Nights; Tishani Doshi
In her novel, Small Days and Nights, the poet-novelist, Tishani Doshi, invites us to join her bi-racial protagonist, Grace, as she negotiates a life marked by conflict, loss, and anger. The book begins with Grace, once an American wife with a career in that country, living unconventionally and unwillingly, with her sister, who has Down's syndrome, and a pack of dogs. Their lives in a crumbling complex set in the far south of India are integrated with political unrest and material disparity. They are both like and profoundly unlike their neighbors.

Grace is not a warm and fuzzy protagonist. It is the reader's task to discover both the reasons for her current status and the sources of her sense of emptiness. We are invited to think about, and either accept, or condemn, the ways in which Grace seeks happiness.

In almost brutally honest terms, Doshi describes the people in Grace's life, and the contrasting beauty and ugliness within Indian culture and society. Thoughtfully reading Doshi's text invites the reader to develop an appreciation for ambiguity in the character's life and our own. Her final chapter challenges us to ask what it means to be true to oneself.

This book is an excellent book club choice. It avoids cliches and gradually builds empathy for Grace, her sister, and their serially abused nation. I would describe it as a novel to be admired, rather than liked, but one which grows on you and is worth reading.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Margaret R. (Claremont, CA)

Small Days And Nights
Tishani Doshi is a poet and for me, Small Days and Nights was a an Odyssean poem trapped in a novel. The raw physicality and sensual passages throughout this book left me emotionally engaged, frustrated, and anxious. This is not an easy read and its intentional lack of straightforward chronological narrative makes it feel more dream-like than plot-driven. If the reader is not already familiar with structural elements such as Downs Syndrome, Indian politics and culture, life in the American south, and the streets and canals of Venice, there is much to try to figure out on your own. I would not read this book for pleasure but I would recommend it to a sophisticated reader who would like to take this journey.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Janice P. (South Woodstock, VT)

A Poet's Novel
Tishani Doshi is a poet. So it's not surprising that she brings a poet's craft to her first novel, one that unfolds in vignettes of vivid sensual detail and emotional resonance, and that tell a story in the way a lyric poem does— indirectly, through small moments drawn, seemingly randomly, from the near and distant past, and a present that quickly becomes past. We discover Grace Marisola's story—taking place across three continents and perhaps four decades—the way we uncover our own: moving forward through chronological time while dwelling simultaneously in different parts of the past, seemingly "small days and nights" that add up to a self, a life with potential meaning.

To recap Grace's story in narrative terms, we meet her at a time when she is trying to make sense of her failing marriage to an American, her return to her native TK after her mother's death, her untypical childhood there as the offspring of an Italian and an Indian, and the upheaval underway in India itself. Against this backdrop, she must piece together family secrets and redefine family to include a sister she never knew she had.

This is a rewarding read, but not an easy one, despite its shorter than average length. There's a lot to piece together, much implied and left to the reader's imagination, supplied with a wealth of rich and often symbolic details, running the gamut from gross to sublime. Doshani raises themes of individual and cultural identity, of freedom and obligation, on many levels, but true to a poet's vocation, she doesn't tell us what to conclude. She leaves us with Grace's sense of arrival at a point of departure — of hard-won answers, and new questions.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Joan P. (Owego, NY)

Thought Provoking Novel
I found Small Days and Nights an interesting book. Grace tells of her upbringing. Her mother and father had a strange relationship and a very big secret that Grace is faced with after the death of her mother. The author is a poet and I found the descriptions of the places in Grace's life beautiful and troubling. She speaks of the plastic filled waters of India and the murky, dark canals of Venice and the openess of the spaces and roads in America. A recurring theme is how alone Grace is. To paraphrase, Grace had an acute need for a witness to her life and a yearning for people in her life who shared her memories besides her parents. This book is so rich with characters, ideas and poetry, it deserves a second reading for me to truly understand all of it.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Linda W. (Summit, NJ)

Day by Day
Tishani Doshi is a very good writer. She provides insight and detail to life in India and the challenges of a bicultural marriage. Her framework for this book is to chronicle, as if in a journal the life and thoughts of Grace from the death of her mother to finding out she has a sister with Down's syndrome to the break up of her marriage and finally to a life not necessarily of contentment, but of resignation to moments of happiness.

This story is filled with nuggets of wisdom, insight and dreary ordinary that makes it read more like an epic poem than a work of fiction.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Catheryne Z. (Plano, TX)

Family Ties
In this book, Grace returns home to India after a a failing marriage to bury her mother. While there, she learns of a sister with Downs' syndrome that her parents have kept hidden from her in an institution. I enjoyed reading about her struggles and adventures in moving back to India and taking care of her sister. The story changes setting and time periods in Grace's life as she processes the new discoveries concerning her long lost sister. Sometimes it was a little hard to follow when the author jumped around to different locations or times in Grace's life. I enjoyed reading about family relationships in other cultures. Also, it was interstellar to see the impact of her parents' decision to institutionalize Lucie and keep her hidden from Grace all of these years. The book was well written and kept my attention, especially the last half. I would recommend it to readers who like to read about family dynamics and how finding out past family secrets impacts someone. It would be an intersection book to discuss in a book club.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Susan S. (Salida, CO)

Tourist in India and more
So much of the setting of this wonderful book was exotic to me - I even had to look at a map of India to orient myself. The names of places and clothes and foods made me feel like a tourist and on the far edge of local life. The lifestyle of Grace - multi-national native of India, Italy, and America - is so unexpected. Looking both into her past and trying to guess the possibilities for her future - keeps you on the edge of your seat. Hold tight - it's a wild ride!
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Alison F. (Clearwater, FL)

Sense of belonging
Small Days and Nights is a gorgeously written novel of a part Indian part Italian young woman who finds she has inherited an older sibling she did not know existed who has Down's Syndrome. Gracia does struggle with her return to India, off kilter as an outsider surrounded by others outside of belonging themselves. The language by this poet author is gorgeous while the story is slow paced at times but with some deeply tragic moments highlighting her vulnerability in her setting. Ultimately a tale of survival in creating a home and family against the odds.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Liz D. (East Falmouth, MA)

Belonging
Gace Marisola is seeking a home, a family, a place to belong. She returns to India to attend to her dying mother and finds that she has been left with a strange bequest. A beach house unoccupied for years and a sister she never knew she had.

The bequest will change Grace's life forever. Caring for a sister who has been institutionalized since birth, making the beach house livable and figuring out her own place in life.

Grace struggles on all fronts with her sister Lucy, the house and finding her place in Indian society.

Doshi's spare language with no unneeded words bring Grace's uncertainties to life. There are many questions in the book the interconnections of families, the responsibilities to family members and the sacrifices they can involve.

This was an interesting read about India and the place an Indian-Italian woman can make for herself there.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Mary O. (Boston, MA)

Multi cultural nuances
Set in modern India, an interesting story of different cultures, family challenges and life decisions we make. Definitely grasps you and plops you down in a foreign culture with its mores and nuances. A good read!
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Judith G. (Ewa Beach, HI)

A sense of familiarity
Having recently read "The Dutch House" this book seemed to me to cover the same territory, i.e. an old family home, a dysfunctional family, a mother who is distant. I enjoyed the book because I like reading about other cultures. I think anyone interested in Indian culture would enjoy this book. I also think if you care about mentally challenged people you might feel yourself nodding along in recognition as you read the book.
Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Terry M. (Altoona, IA)

Survival and Change
I really enjoyed this story about survival and change! I especially enjoyed the setting in modern-day India.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Peggy C. (Wyckoff, NJ)

Not So Sure
This book was a bit of a challenge for me, as there were aspects I liked and those I did not. I found the story line to be interesting and it dealt with thought provoking topics, such as family, relationships, and responsibilities. In addition, the author provided vivid descriptions of life in India, which since I have not been there was very helpful. But, I found it difficult to get into the story and stay with it. Further, it was hard to understand and "warm up" to the characters, specifically Grace. Though the book was certainly well written, I can only give it a 3.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Charlene

Small Days and Nights
What I liked most about this book was the author's beautiful prose. Her descriptions of place were vivid. Sometimes I read those paragraphs more than once to soak it in.
It was a good story but I couldn't invest any feelings in Grace. I couldn't connect with her as a character.
The story itself was unique and touching. But when I finished it I didn't have that feeling I get when I read something I love - that I can't wait to pass this on to a friend. I couldn't say "You have to read this book!" I may try something else by this author at a later date to see if it was just this book that didn't capture me. It wasn't a book that I couldn't wait to read every day. It was a book I wanted to finish so I could move on to something else.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Kate S. (Arvada, CO)

Beautiful Writing, Slow Reading
This is an interesting book to review. On one hand, I loved the writing. Beautiful, descriptive, and pulled you into the story and setting, On the other hand I really did not connect with the main character, and at times felt the storyline dragged and got bogged down into a story that I could not, or really didn't care if I followed. A slow read for me and even tho I loved some of the writing, I would not recommend this book to my book club. Interesting title and cover, not sure I cared for either.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Barbara C. (Riverside, CA)

I wanted to like it!
I thought that the story of a young woman who was put together with a sister who so needed her would make their lives more interesting and fulfilled. That is not what I found. I was over it pretty quickly. A great deal of detail was interesting but tedious. I see that other reviewers were more positive, but for me it was difficult to get through.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Becky H. (Chicago, IL)

Partly lovely, partly disappointing
I so wanted to like this book. And I did – parts of it anyway. Doshi in some places (mostly descriptive parts of the book) is lyrical and enchanting, but in other parts (mostly conversations and character development) she is stilted and unpolished. Did she need a good editor? I also found the general outline of the book to be confusing as it jumped back and forth in time.

That said the maturing of the relationship between the sisters grows and changes in lovely ways. Both sisters and Teacher developed as the book progressed. Mother, however, seemed static, even as Grace reveals more and more of her personality and their relationship. Lucia was my favorite part of the book and was sympathetically drawn. I found my smiling as she made her wants and needs known.

Overall, I give the book 3 out of 5 stars for the parts of wonderful writing and Lucia. It is not a book I would recommend wholeheartedly.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Veronica E. (Chesterton, IN)

IT WAS JUST OVER
After I have finished the last page of a book I'm reading and I close the book, I have thoughts and feelings about what I just finished. I think about the characters and their lives. I even go back to the beginning to get a sense or feel of what I have read, talk about it and recommend it. This story did not do that for me at all. When I finished the story I closed the book and went back a few days later and read the prologue. Still the story did not grab me. I felt the characters were shallow. Grace selfish, full of guilt and regret. The ending somewhat predictable. I also didn't care for the cover of the book.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Sally H. (Geneva, OH)

Small Days and Nights
I would give this book a 3.5, though I wanted to like it more than I did. The characters weren't terribly sympathetic, though Grace seemed to have learned more appropriate treatment of a person with Down syndrome by the end of the book, even if she hadn't figured out much about romantic relationships. I suppose one could summarize by saying they got there in the end, but it was a long and tortuous journey.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Crum

Slowburn
This book was a welcome distraction from the other books I've been reading as of late. I have to admit however, I like it when a book grabs me from the first page. This book was not that. However, I did enjoy the plot and the characters. Although this was a slowburn, I'd definitely recommend it. It was a unique, special book and I'll be looking for more from this author in the future.
Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Patricia E. (Sugarcreek, OH)

A Life of Opposing Forces
Main character Grace Marisola is a woman in her thirties who has lived in India, the U.S. and Italy without a sense of who she is or where she belongs. After growing up in India with her battling Italian father and Indian mother, she travels to America for college. There she marries Blake, an American student she first encountered in India. Now she is returning to India to bury her mother and meet a special needs sister she never knew she had. Blake remains in the U.S. as they both try to figure out whether their ten-year marriage is worth saving. Much of the novel exposes the cultural, geographical and emotional dichotomies that shape Grace. But, rather than embracing the differences, she seems stuck within herself. I would have enjoyed the book much more if I could have sympathized with Grace. Although she is aware of the things that hold her back, she seems unwilling or unable to grow through that awareness.
Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Linda J. (Urbana, OH)

Long Days and Sleeping Nights
I love reading about books from cultures I'm not familiar with, but I did not love this book. I can equate it to the female version of Rain Man except I never developed empathy for the main character, the sister who did not know of the sister with Down Syndrome. I should have been able to read the 261 pages in about 3 days. Instead, it took 11 days. I struggled to finish it.
Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Mary G. (North Royalton, OH)

Small Days, Nights, Characters
Although the cover art, title, and even the first chapter intrigued me, I did not feel the remainder fulfilled that expectation. Between first and last chapters I found transitions from present to past and all the places and people involved to be too often unclear. I felt no connection to the characters or depth to most of the characters. Their relationships seemed shallow for the most part. Although the final pages do reveal some redemptive qualities it seemed too little, too late. I only reached those final pages due to my commitment to the review. Otherwise, I'd have left them all behind in their smallness.

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