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Book Review : The Invitation

Written By: amodini - May• 24•12

The Invitation: A NovelTitle : The Invitation
Author : Anne Cherian
Publisher : W. W. Norton & Company
Pages : 304
Source : Publisher/Netgalley ARC
Rating : 3.5/5

Vikram (“Vic”) Jha, Lali, Jay and Frances were at UCLA together in the 1970s. Now they live in different cities, and have different lives. Jay and Frances who were a couple then have married, had kids and descended into suburban domesticity. Lali has married Jonathan, a Caucasian man and now has a Harvard-going son Aaron. Vikram, the social bumbler of the four is materially the most successful. Not only has he realized his dream of starting up a computer company, but he has turned it into a profitable business – a business which he would like to bequeath to his son.

Now, many years later, Vic has arranged for a grand party to celebrate his son’s graduation from M.I.T. and has invited, among others, his old friends from UCLA. Jay and Frances who aren’t doing so well career-wise and family-wise are tense about putting up a brave front at the party. Lali is feeling distant to her husband, and at odds with her son who wants to take a break from his education. She too is worried about appearing sure-footed and successful at Vikram’s big celebration. And Vikram is so bent upon having his son join his computer business, that he does not realize that his wife Priya and son Nikhil may not wish the same. All of them come together that evening in their best clothes and most pleasant personas, guarding their struggles, and hugging their weaknesses to themselves.

The author describes the immigrant experience well; the cultural need for good education, wealth and keeping up with the Joneses is typical of desi society. Moreover this celebration functions as a reunion of sorts and, as most people would, the four friends want to look successful and happy to each other – an affirmation of their life’s philosophies. Thus good jobs, luxurious cars, big homes and dutiful children are called for. Each of the four have a part of the great Indian-American dream; the rest, each hopes, will be hidden by a brave facade.

Cherian pulls her characters from different parts and different social stratas of the country (India, I mean). Vikram is a poor farmer’s son from the Hindi belt. Jay is a Hindu from a well-to-do family and has taken his comforts and successes for granted. Frances Dias is a Christian from Goa, and considers herself lucky to have married Jay. Lali Chacko is a Malyalee Christian who has found life with a Jewish man. When the four come together at UCLA it is with baggage of their own, and preset notions of each other’s worlds. Thus while Jay appears suave and polished, Vic has awkward social graces. When Lali lands up in the US with loads of hard-to-launder sarees and salwar-kameezes, Frances must help change her wardrobe to a more comfortable one.

In these different people, one thread is common – they all must play the “immigrant game of one-upmanship”:

Jay called it the social version of cricket. “The conversational ball comes your way,” he had joked after a party they had attended years ago, where one man had bragged about the size of his house, the leather seats in his car, and the tuition at his children’s private school. “You hold out your responsive bat, and then you thwack the show-off ball as hard as you can. If your house is bigger, or your car is a newer model, then you get to run between the wickets, and it’s your score.”

This is almost desi-chick-lit, but heftier. I do like the book; Cherian fleshes out her characters very believably. I have probably in my life met a Jay or a Frances, a Lali or a Vic. I had anticipated the inconclusive ending because this is how such things go. A quick and pleasurable read, although a tad predictable – recommended.

P.S. : Love the gorgeous cover, and sarees in general, but why do both Cherian’s novels have women in sarees on them ? Same woman, different sarees 🙂 ?

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  1. Reema Sahay says:

    I loved your review. I recently finished reading this book and loved it too. I found the author’s writing deeply engaging and I really look forward to reading her first book.
    My book has a different cover page. I like this one better.

    • amodini says:

      Thanks Reema! Am glad you liked it – will go by and read your review too. Always a pleasure to (virtually) meet other book-lovers!

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