No One Can Pronounce My Name

This book has received praise online among readers and in critical circles. It was gifted to me by a friend who thought I might find kinship in stories about immigrant Indian families, young Indian-American men in college and Indian families and individuals finding a place for themselves in American society.

The wrinkle, though, is that it is very difficult to dispassionately consume stories about lives so similar to your own. I’m not the matriarch of an Indian family, but I know one very well. I haven’t struggled with my sexuality after the death of my sister but I know the role of homophobia in the Indian community and how sexuality is policed among young Indian people very well. I’m not a writer, but I feel a strong sense of admiration for and connection to Jhumpa Lahiri (presented as a thinly veiled version of herself in this book). The adage that seeing yourself in books and movies is empowering is true; but when you’re not used to it, it can also be discombobulating. I suppose the reason for all this is because when a story comes so close to your life, you start having a hard time believing the characters are real. Would I have the courage to do what Prashant did, at a dinner party at his house, calling his Dad and his friends bigots and hypocrites? Or would I cower, stew silently, and try in vain to understand and disassemble the motivations of my Dad and his friends? Would my mom pursue a writing career in secret? Or would she be held under the thumb of patriarchy and familial weight for decades, only achieving a fraction of the professional success she might have achieved otherwise? Are all these questions beside the point? I don’t know. But they were bouncing around in my head, keeping me from truly getting lost in this book.

Another reason I had a difficult time with this book was because of its humor. Every joke in this book brought out of me the loudest sigh and the biggest eye roll. The author, gifted as he may be as a writer, is just not funny. And I wish he would have been self-aware enough to know this.