Summary and book reviews of America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners

by Leah Franqui

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui X
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2018, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2019, 320 pages

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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.

19
New York

Although it was unusual for him, Ronnie had decided that he would accompany Satya and Rebecca on their first day with Mrs. Sengupta. As it was Satya's first tour, and Rebecca's first experience with the company, he told himself that he was being a responsible boss, but in reality he was excited to be back on the Circle Line. It was the one tourist activity he actually enjoyed. Looking at himself in the bathroom that morning, he giggled in anticipation as he combed his thinning hair. It was six thirty but he had to leave soon if he was to be there at eight forty-five, his customary fifteen minutes early for clients.

Getting out of the train, Ronnie followed a slim but round pair of buttocks up the subway stairs and out into the sea of people that was Times Square. He liked following women up the stairs, especially when the weather was nice and their bodies weren't restricted by bulky coats. He enjoyed the denim-clad view for a full two minutes before ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. "Mrs. Sengupta was traveling scandalously alone, without a husband or a gaggle of women her own age…" Many people in Pival's orbit are shocked by her decision to go to the US by herself. What about a woman—especially an older woman—traveling alone is so alarming to them? Is it really about safety—as Pival's maid insists—or about propriety? Are solo women travelers viewed with the same concern in other cultures?
  2. "Nothing would erase the sense of continued shame" that Satya feels for abandoning his friend Ravi and edging him out of a job. How do you feel about Satya's betrayal of Ravi? Is it understandable or unforgiveable?
  3. Mr. Ghazi sees Rebecca's "early enthusiasm become a hardened ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about America for Beginners.
You can see the full discussion here.


Authors use of threat of suicide
I do think this was an important part of the story. Pival was mourning, angry, depressed and conflicted about many things. I think Pival had partial hope that her son was still alive, and that kept her going, and even making the travel arrangements. ... - teachlz

Do you consider Ram's behavior to his wife and son abusive? What is the line between an unhappy relationship and an abusive one?
There are cultural differences, but Ram's behavior was more psychologically abusive than cultural to both his wife and son. His wife lost herself trying to make Ram happy, and his wife lost her son, trying to agree with Ram's decisions. - teachlz

Do you feel that you have more 'stuff' in your life than you need? Can societies achieve a better balance between the haves and have nots?
I definitely have more than I need. Each time I travel to another country, I realize how wasteful we are in this country. A couple of years ago in Vietnam, I saw people making very creative toys and other objects from scraps. In Africa, women were ... - pennyp

Does the distinction between Bangladeshis and Indians matter in America? Do "illegal immigrants" in America face the same stigma as those Bangladeshis in India?
I believe if the author didn’t want us to think about immigration in America today, she wouldn’t have written a novel where most of the characters are immigrants, and she would have used a different title. So the question is relevant and appropriate ... - JLPen77

Have you had the opportunity to show overseas or out of state visitors around your area? If so, did it cause you to look differently at places you already knew?
Yes. My daughter lived for 2 1/2 years in Kazakhstan and we both visited her and hosted some of her friends who were able to travel to this country. I have also served as docent for the Chicago History Museum giving tours to many visitors. We live in... - beckyh

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This is one of the best books I've read this year! (Melanie B). I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who loves a good read that easily captures and holds for a weekend (Melissa S). I would also suggest it for those interested in exploring different viewpoints and other cultures (Kathryn H). Readers who have enjoyed A Man Called Ove and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will be delighted with this book (Judith S). America for Beginners will be my next book recommendation to book club so that I can further explore it with friends (Laura G). It will stay with me for a long time and is certainly one worth sharing (Brenda S).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (637 words).

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Media Reviews

USA Today
Compelling… a strong contemporary story about cross-cultural alliances, the bonds of family and what it means to 'learn America.'

The Washington Times
This novel can be heart-wrenching, particularly if the reader has ever experienced any similar heartache, but even through its most wrenching segments there’s an ease to the writing that keeps the material from becoming too unsettling or, conversely, sentimental.

Kirkus Reviews
Clichés and overexplaining get in the way of the humor and genuine sentiment that this novel strains toward.

Booklist
This is a humorous and heartfelt excursion into the promise that America represents, to both natives and immigrants, and an emotional examination of what that promise means in practice

Library Journal
Starred Review. Debut author Franqui, an award-winning playwright living in Mumbai, writes a tender, funny, wrenching, beautifully executed tale of three lost souls who traverse the chasms of cultural, generational, and geographical divides to forge some bonds strong and true enough to withstand life's gut punches.

Author Blurb Amita Trasi, bestselling author of The Color of Our Sky
I loved this beautiful, deeply human tale. Exquisitely written with humor and tenderness, this novel is a perceptive exploration of prejudice, cultural differences, the American dream, and ultimately, the kindness and love that binds us all—a timely reminder of life’s profound possibilities when we open our hearts. This is one magnificent read!

Author Blurb Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers
Compassionate and funny, America For Beginners delves into the complications of family as three unlikely companions venture across a country that challenges their understanding of themselves. A charming debut by a fresh new voice.

Reader Reviews

Becky H

America for Beginners
This was a delightful book. A conservative Indian lady seeks closure with her son’s death by taking a guided tour of America. Pival hires an Indian (she thinks) tour company that is really Bengali. Her “companion” is an erstwhile actress who is ...   Read More

CarolT

Warm, witty, wise
America for Beginners is warm, witty, and wise. Leah Franqui is an author to watch.

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, ...   Read More

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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Bertha Benz and the First Road Trip

Leah Franqui's novel, America for Beginners, centers on three people of diverse backgrounds making a road trip together across the United States. The term "road trip" conjures up a lengthy car journey across many miles, generally with a vague itinerary and unplanned stops as the travelers find places of interest to explore. Some feel it is the ultimate expression of freedom, the luxury to live life unplanned for a period of time. According to Travel & Leisure, one in four Americans enjoy this type of vacation every year.

Bertha Benz and Sons setting out on their expeditionThe first documented road trip is said to have been taken by Bertha Benz in August, 1888 when, without the knowledge of her husband Karl, she set off in his invention, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, to travel 60 miles ...

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