Author: Shoba Narayan
Author: Shoba Narayan
Shoba Narayan’s memoir is as much the story of an immigrant to a foreign country as it is the story of how becoming a mother changes one’s perspective in so many unanticipated ways.
Shoba was born and raised by a traditional East Indian family who observed their Hindu beliefs closely. While she was encouraged to pursue an education, she was also expected to marry someone her parents chose for her and stay in close proximity to her extended family. Unfortunately for Shoba’s parents, their daughter had a fierce desire to go to America.
In the first part of the memoir, Shoba describes her life in India with clarity and precision – evoking the scents and sounds as well as the cultural standards she lived with as a child and a young teen. She was determined to get to America somehow, despite the frantic pleading and often dramatic scenes her parents employed to convince her otherwise. And her determination paid off. Shoba left India for the United States to attend college and with the exception of a few visits back home, including the one in which she met and married the man her family chose for her, she remained in the US for decades.
Shoba and her husband lived a very comfortable, upper-middle class life in New York City, socializing and taking part in the active culture of the city and, by all accounts, Shoba was happy. The turning point came when the couple had their first baby.
Shoba writes about so many of the typical anxieties of a first-time mother – her constant self-assessment and questioning her own judgment. Living in such a culturally diverse community presents her with many different examples of how to raise her daughter and yet Shoba doesn’t seem to feel comfortable choosing any of them. As she navigates her own worries, she begins to reminisce more and more about her own childhood and wonders whether she would be better off raising her child as she was raised.
She leads the reader quite honestly through the discussions and arguments she has with her husband regarding a possible return to India, armed with the stark differences between the country she so desperately wanted to live in and the one where she grew up. Ultimately, Shoba decides that returning to her homeland is the best decision for her and her children and, while the final decision played out over the space of years, the end of the book finds her settled and at peace with this choice.
I found the book intriguing because it allowed me to see India in a way that I have not been able to experience it and because it gave me an entirely different perspective on my own country. Woven throughout the book are the angst and worry that I, as a mother, can identify with as I struggle to ensure that the choices I am making about raising my own daughters are in their best interest. I found the book to be as much about finding yourself in a different country as it was about growing up and realizing that what you once desired isn’t nearly as important anymore.
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