Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents by Minal Hajratwala

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 430 pp. $26
Genre: Indian diaspora, memoir, travelogue, history, non-fiction,migration

Sorry it's taken me so long to come up with another review...I have been reading "Leaving India" by Minal Hajratwala and although it's not a door-stopper it's not one of those books you can speed up, hence the delay.

When I first heard about "Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents" by Minal Hajratwala, and what the publishers had to say about it -

Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents . Beginning with her great-grandfather Motiram's original flight from British-occupied India to Fiji, where he rose from tailor to department store mogul, Hajratwala follows her ancestors across the twentieth century to explain how they came to be spread across five continents and nine countries. Hajratwala ... (more)brings to light for the very first time the story of the Indian diaspora and its shaping by the historical forces of British colonialism, apartheid, Gandhi's Salt March, and American immigration policy. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

- I thought I would lap all of this up in one sitting...after all....being an Indian myself and with relatives all over the world this could have been my story...but after a great start I found myself easily bored with the book. I just felt there were too many detailed descriptions and anecdotes about far too many members of this humongous family, some of which were nice to read and others, downright boring. The part I liked the best was when Minal turns the microscope on herself and writes about her experience with racism in the US and her coming out to the world and her parents about being a lesbian. It was the part that touched me the most...such a pity I had to wait till the end to read it.

I think you will be well served to just listen to a couple of numerous interviews Hajratwalla has given NPR and other radio stations and, ofcourse, ifyou are still clamoring for more, there is always the book.


Zibilee said...

Sorry this one wasn't great for you. Sometimes it takes awhile for me to finish a book that I find slow as well. Hope your next book is better.

Anonymous said...

Indeed this was long waited but equally non-expected review in the way it turned out to be for you. I doubt it would be interesting for me when you, an Indian "in the Great White North" didn't enjoyed.
Yep, this is quite a surprise!

CocoDivaDog said...

I too am now struggling to finish Troost's Lost on Planet China (I think you had blogged about it). It's informative, but I don't like the book.
Sorry you were disappointed.

SSQuo said...

The title sounds inviting, but it seems like the book didnt deliver.

Recently I finished House of Mr. Biswas (I know very late in life), and while I enjoyed the story, it was a slow read.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Zibilee

THis is such a meticulously-researched book and it was a labor of love on behalf of the author - one sees that on every page - but because it centers so much on her numerous ancestors, it, at times, can get a little boring. The first few chapters and the last few were really good though.

@Milan ~ Yes, to be honest, I surprised myself by not enjoying it. This book received a lot of good reviews and quite a bit of press and I was really excited to read it....sad it didn't turn out the way I expected it would. I guess it's more me and not the book. Based on the hype I had certain expectations for it, the author certainly can't be blamed for that!

Lotus Reads said...

@Dog Girl ~ I part-read and part-listened to "Lost on Planet China" and being the travel-crazy person that I am I really enjoyed his observations on China ( I actually sat there with a guidebook, tracking the cities he visited). Loved his sense of humor too. What aspects of the book are you struggling with?

@SSQuo ~ Hello! I listened to the audio book for "House of Mr. Biswas" but it was such a long time ago I barely remember anything. Shame on me. Thanks for the visit!

CocoDivaDog said...

Re: Lost on Planet China...I get the sense Troost did not enjoy himself in China.
Nevertheless, I hope to travel there summer 2010. Will try to include more Tibet and Hong Kong. He offered some valuable insights, though.

M said...

Thank you for the comment you left on my journal about a month ago. (Sorry for the delay in my response!) I intend on reading The White Tiger soon, and Honolulu is also on my TBR list. (In fact, did you review it? I put it on my list earlier this year after reading a review of it.) :) Thanks for the recommendations.

iselldreams said...

hmmm seems like a partial disappoinment....when i first saw the book cover in ur review before reading the post, i had thought it was one of those exotic books about pardesi people...
i am still going on with vampires..after twilight series, i started Anne Rice books...Last week i completed Vittorio, then got Pandora to read this week..lets see how it is:)

karmic said...

Hi Lotus, I almost missed reading this post. I always look forward to your reviews.
Thank you for sharing this with us. I am sorry that this book was a bit of a disappointment, despite the nature of the story.
I have not read this book, so my opinion might not mean much. Despite the differences and flavors do you think the story of the Indian immigrant and their family spread far and wide might just be losing some of it shine? It has been written about a lot now no?
Or do you think it is more a function of just this story being too unwieldy?
As for the author being a lesbian, the desi coming out is still a new phenomenon no?
I enjoyed reading your take on this book. Thanks so much!

Lotus Reads said...

@Dog Girl ~ Troost is a comedian, I think it's just natural for him to want to poke fun at everything he sees. He does that in his previous novels too. I'm so excited at your upcoming trip...cannot wait to see pics and hear your stories. Tibet will be magnificent i am sure, but do hurry up and get there....there seems to be some kind of a cultural genocide (the Dalai Lama's words, not mine) going on and I think soon India might be the only place where you see and experience authentic Tibetan culture!

Lotus Reads said...

@M ~ Hello! Don't apologize...I used to be so good at blog visiting but I just don't have the time any more. Yes, I have a rough review written up for "Honolulu". That book is so lush with detail that I fear I haven't done justice to it at all...I guess each one is going to have to read it and enjoy it for himself/herself. I would love to find out what you think of "White Tiger"...I started listening to the audio version and need to get back to it. It was quite gripping.