Fall­ing for a fam­ily saga

Toronto Star - - BOOKS - HEATHER BIR­RELL SPE­CIAL TO THE STAR

Shilpi So­maya Gowda’s first novel, Se­cret Daugh­ter, em­ployed a split nar­ra­tive to tell the sto­ries of two char­ac­ters sep­a­rated by ge­og­ra­phy and class. In this, her more com­plex and re­fined sec­ond novel, the author uses a sim­i­lar struc­ture to re­count the story of Anil, as­pir­ing doc­tor and el­dest son of a re­spected farm­ing fam­ily in Gu­jarat, In­dia, and his close child­hood friend, Leena, a cre­ative, strong-willed girl whose back­ground prom­ises much less in terms of fu­ture for­tune and op­por­tu­nity.

The Golden Son of­ten reads like a fable wherein the hero’s strug­gles lead him to rev­e­la­tions that were un­der his nose all along. When Anil leaves his fam­ily to be­gin a pres­ti­gious in­tern­ship in a hospi­tal in Texas, it is as a prodi­gal son whose re­turn is an­tic­i­pated and be­grudged. While in the U.S., the ca­ma­raderie that de­vel­ops be­tween Anil and his two In­dian-born room­mates al­low Gowda to ex­plore some well-worn themes about the con­flict be­tween cul­tural tra­di­tion and in­di­vid­ual choice and the par­tic­u­lar iso­la­tion ex­pe­ri­enced by the new im­mi­grant.

Mean­while, Leena’s par­ents have found a man will­ing to marry their daugh­ter, and, de­spite hav­ing to bor­row money for an ac­cept­able dowry, are con­fi­dent they have made the right choice. With this sto­ry­line, Gowda ex­am­ines some of the more dis­turb­ing and an­ti­quated as­pects of gen­der re­la­tions in In­dia, to pow­er­ful ef­fect.

When Anil’s fa­ther dies sud­denly, his mother in­sists he take on the role as ar­biter, and the cases he is asked to “judge” give the novel some of its most com­pelling mo­ments.

There is some­thing per­haps overly ro­man­tic and incredible about Anil and Leena’s shared story, but I will con­fess to fall­ing for it nonethe­less — and Gowda has the writerly chops when it comes to pace and plot that keep a reader en­gaged re­gard­less of mis­giv­ings. More im­por­tantly, the novel’s de­noue­ment man­ages to sub­vert ex­pec­ta­tions, while still ful­fill­ing the fable’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­vey a use­ful, res­o­nant truth.

by Shilpi So­maya Gowda, HarperAv­enue, 408 pages, $32.99.

The Golden Son

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