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America for Beginners

by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui X
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
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  • Published:
    Jul 2018, 320 pages

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Power Reviewer
Betty Taylor

A Life Changing Journey
If you enjoyed Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A PLACE FOR US, I highly recommend AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS.

Three misfits set out on a journey across America, a journey of evolution, and are changed forever.

Pival Sengupta, a newly widowed Indian woman, has booked a trip to America. Her servants are outraged! A woman just does not do this alone. But Pival is not going to see the sights of America. Instead, she is hoping to find her son whom her husband has told her is dead. After moving to America, Rahi revealed to his father Ram that he was gay and was immediately disowned. Then one night Ram took a call and told Pival it was from their son’s lover in America and that Rahi had died. On her trip to America she wants to see what Rahi had possibly seen in America, perhaps walk where he walked before he died. But did he die? She wonders if her husband lied to her. She has had her doubts since the death was so sudden and there was no body returned to India. She is determined to find out the truth.

The characters in this story are each unique and all are engaging. From Mrs. Sengupta who is naïve about so much but determined in her mission, to Mr. Munshi, the hard-working Bangladeshi tour company owner who tries to pass himself off as Indian. The description of him that quickly comes to mind is a “snake oil salesman”. One has to wonder how his business remains open given his naivety. Pival’s guide is Satya who has only been in the US for a year and never outside New York City. He is sweet, extremely naïve, and always ravenously hungry. For reasons of modesty, Pival needs a female companion so Mr. Munshi hires Rebecca, an aspiring actress. This two-week tour being a companion sounds like a working vacation to her so she is thrilled to get the job.

As Pival, Rebecca, and Satya make their way across the country they are challenged by their cultural and generational differences. But they begin to evolve in their own self-growth and learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. They learn to appreciate the qualities the others have to offer. Barriers come down, animosities are forgotten, and true bonds are formed. There is humor, heartbreak, forgiveness, and acceptance. This story isn’t about where they travel but rather the voyage itself.
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.
Power Reviewer
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!
Brenda S. (Winter Haven, FL)

An Unexpected Journey
The author, Lea Franqui, introduced the characters perfectly. No person is perfect and it is not always easy to understand why someone might think differently than we do. But, if we can just take a moment to listen, just listen, there is much to be gleaned from another's experiences.

Pavil's life in India may have seemed charmed, but the tortures she endured made her feel her life was not worth living. By meeting a young man and young woman and traveling the US to find her son's lover, she gained an appreciation of life...and the choices her son made.

This book will stay with me for a long time. It is certainly one worth sharing.
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