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You Bring the Distant Near (2017)

by Mitali Perkins

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3071473,119 (4.11)3
From 1965 through the present, an Indian American family adjusts to life in New York City, alternately fending off and welcoming challenges to their own traditions.
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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Macmillan for allowing me to read and review this absolutely beautiful book by Mitali Perkins. What a gorgeous read. I absolutely devoured this multi-generational tale of love and family as seen through the eyes of a Bengali-American family.

The book this reminds me the most of is the "Joy Luck Club" although I found this far more humorous and uplifting. It begins in Ghana with a pair of sisters as young girls, and we get to watch little vignettes of their lives as they grow, move around the world, find parts of new cultures to make their own, and parts of their Indian heritage that are true no matter where they live. It was especially beautiful to read because there was such a contrast presented in experiences. Sonya, one of the sisters, is strikingly different in personality and life choices than Tara, the other sister.

Watching them grow, their mother experience life in an entirely new way, and the experiences of Sonya and Tara's children made the book just feel very whole and complete. It is very much a women-centric book. And while I think some books seek to horrify and shock, Mitali Perkins did such a lovely job of presenting her material gracefully. In making little moments count in big ways. I cried at the end. Truly beautiful.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the author.

Please excuse typos. Entered on screen reader. ( )
  KatKinney | Mar 3, 2022 |
CW: Parental death and exploration of grief, racism and colorism (both challenged), aftermath of 9/11.

When I attended the NOVATeen Book Festival in Virginia in early 2018, I was ecstatic because it was my first ever book event. And I had the amazing opportunity to have some lovely conversations with YA authors. One such convo was with Jennifer Matthieu (the author of Moxie) and when she realized I was an Indian immigrant, she recommended me this book by Mitali Perkins with the idea that I would be able to relate to the characters’ experiences. While the book has remained on my radar since then, I never added it to my tbr because I thought it was too close to being a lit fic. However, recently I just had this urge to read the author’s works because I’ve only heard great things and I’m so glad that I decided to pick it up.

The first thing I have to mention is that this is a completely character driven novel, which not much of a plot. And it definitely worked for me because I could care less about a plot if you give me amazing well written cast of characters. This book is like a slice of life story of three generations of women across a span of four decades, and their varying experiences as immigrants as well as naturalized citizens - and I thought it was written brilliantly. The prose is riveting right from the get go; it captivated me on page one and didn’t let me go until I was done in a mere couple of hours. I can’t believe how fast paced it was for a story about the daily lives of characters, and how the author managed to convey so much in such a short book. I felt every single emotion that the characters did - Sorrow, joy, helplessness, frustration and ultimately love.

The five women in this book are the pillars of this story and anything I can say about them will not be enough. An immigrant mother of two girls who wants a respectable future for her kids in America but still wants to preserve her conservative Bengali identity, a young woman who is frustrated with all the restrictions that are placed upon her and uses her writing as catharsis for venting out her frustrations, her older sister who is burdened by the responsibility of being a dutiful pretty eldest child having to suppress her desire to be on the stage and not an engineer or doctor as she is expected, a biracial young woman who is frustrated with having to choose between both sides of her heritage when all she wants is to belong, and her cousin who maybe an American citizen by birth but feels much more connected to her Bengali and Indian heritage and doesn’t understand why the West is considered a paragon of all things progressive - the story of all these five flawed, strong, resilient women is told in such a seamless manner that you feel connected to them and very invested in what happens in their lives.

This book is full of thought provoking themes and while some are forceful in the way they are discussed, some are too subtle and nuanced - but that’s the beauty of this book. The main theme that’s very pronounced is how immigrants want to preserve their culture and identity even in their new home, but their kids want to assimilate and adopt the ways of the new country much faster. This distinction is particularly visible in instances where Ranee is always sad that her youngest daughter Sonia is of a darker complexion and living in a prominently Black neighborhood might mean that others would see her daughter as one of “them”; and Sonia is appalled at this discrimination and uses her writing as well as involvement in her school’s Equal Rights Club to fight back.

However, it was the other subtle themes that resonated with me a lot because there were things I felt too at some point of time after moving to America, and I was stunned by how realistically the author portrayed it all. Tara is an actor and the way she tries to fit in the new country and school is by watching American tv shows and listening to the popular music, trying to mimic the mannerisms and accent and hoping that it’ll make her feel more American. While I didn’t exactly do it for the same reasons, my basic American education was through TV shows as well and it felt a bit like seeing myself on the page. And I suppose it is true for many people who are in India or other countries, watching Hollywood movies and tv shows to learn more about the West.

Anna was another character I related to quite a bit because she is very Indian at heart and doesn’t understand why she has to completely change herself to fit among her American schoolmates. There is one very telling episode in the novel with Anna when she feels extremely uncomfortable changing in the locker room of her school because there is no privacy, but when she questions about it, she is told that we shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies. I loved how this matter is resolved over time and the message that not wanting to be naked in front of others has nothing to do with being ashamed of our body, and that wanting to be modest is not wrong and just a different choice. This hit very close to my heart because I have faced similar situations.

To conclude, I don’t think I have been able to explain very well in my review why you should read this wonderful book but know that I highly recommend it. If you love books featuring the trials and tribulations of women of different generations and how being an immigrant shapes people’s lives, you should definitely give this one a try. It’s a very nuanced outsider vs insider perspective of both America and India and I thought the author did a brilliant job. However, if you like plot driven books, you might have to give this a miss. This is all about characters whom I could relate to so much, and I don’t think anyone can help but fall in love with them. ( )
  ksahitya1987 | Aug 20, 2021 |
teen fiction/Bengali immigrant family through three generations of women/girls (1970s-present day NYC). layered, believable, relatable characters who embrace with varying degrees their ancestral cultures as well as the "American" ones. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
This is SO GOOD. It's funny and sweet and sad and amazing. I loved all the characters so much and it made me cry and the ending was perfect. You should read it. (I don't even LIKE realistic fiction usually, but it's just the best.) ( )
  bookbrig | Aug 5, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mitali Perkinsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gonzales, CassieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mathan, SnehaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Northeast, ChristianCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Thou has made me known to friends whom I knew not. Thou has given me seats in homes not my own. Thou has brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger. I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forgot that there abides the old in the new, and that there also though abides.

- Rabindranath Tagore, from "Poems"
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For Jacqueline Perkins Draine, my American mom
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The swimmers have finished their races and are basking in the sun.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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From 1965 through the present, an Indian American family adjusts to life in New York City, alternately fending off and welcoming challenges to their own traditions.

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