Mother Land

Mother Land by Leah Franqui

After moving from New York City to Mumbai, India, Rachel’s husband Dhruv is happy with his job, while Rachel isn’t sure what to do next. When Dhruv’s mother Swati shows up for an unannounced visit, Dhruv is sent on a long business trip and will stay with his father in Kolkata. The two women struggle to connect, and it’s fun to see Rachel from Swati’s point of view. Rachel shows only the positive side of life in Mumbai on her social media posts, not sharing her struggles, except with other expats. When Rachel gets a job doing voice over work for a soap opera, Swati is fascinated. The author is from Philadelphia and lives in Mumbai; the city is vividly described. Another fine armchair travel book for summer, this is for readers who prefer character-focused stories. Mother Land will be published in July. The author’s first book is America for Beginners, and I’m looking forward to her next book.


America for Beginners

America for Beginners by Leah Franqui

I thoroughly enjoyed this first novel about a Bengali widow who takes a cross-country trip from New York City to Los Angeles with a young Bangladeshi guide and a struggling actress as her companion. The trio stay at basic chain hotels and eat a lot of mediocre Indian food, visiting all the usual tourist sites. Pival has lost contact with her son, who may be in Los Angeles, and wants to confront his partner Jake. This is her first time away from Kolkata, India and I enjoyed seeing the country through Pival’s point of view. Rebecca, when not acting or picking up men in bars, works at a map store in New York City while young Satya is on his first tour outside the city, and is always hungry. This is a poignant, heartwarming, and occasionally funny character-driven story about outer and inner journeys. I’m looking forward to the author’s next novel, set in Mumbai, India.


The Milk Lady of Bangalore

The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure by Shoba Narayan

When Shoba, a journalist, and her husband Ram move from New York City to the southern Indian city of Bangalore, she is intrigued by the cows in her neighborhood. Shoba makes the acquaintance of Serala, the local milk lady. When her family, including two daughters, aren’t interested in drinking raw milk, Shoba boils the milk and makes yogurt and ghee. Gradually, she gets interested in the role of cows in south Indian culture, and decides to write some articles. Serala and her family guide Shoba, especially when Shoba and Ram decide to buy a cow in honor of their fathers for upcoming birthday celebrations. While I was only expecting to read about cows and dairy products, Shoba also relates the uses of cow urine and dung. A touching chapter explores the difficulty of placing a male calf in mostly vegetarian south India. In this vivid, heartwarming memoir and travelogue, Shoba, Serala and the cows are very good company.

Sideways on a Scooter

Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy

National Public Radio reporter Miranda Kennedy has reported stories from New York City, Washington, Afghanistan, and tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka. Here she tells her story of living in Delhi, India for several years as a young, single woman. The story she tells is mainly about women; how they struggle with the clash of modern and traditional lifestyles in India, where marriage and children are every young woman’s duty. Miranda has so much difficulty renting an apartment as a single woman that her absent boyfriend is reinvented as her husband. She acquires and learns to interact with bossy servants, hire a driver, and makes friends with Indian women of varied backgrounds.

Slums, rural villages, a Punjabi wedding, and visits to Bangladesh enliven the story. Geeta, modern career girl, resists then longs to be married, her ideas heavily influenced by romantic Bollywood movies. Poor Brahmin Radha looks for a husband for her daughter. Women at her health club spend more time chatting then exercising, but Miranda recognizes this as a much needed social outlet. Parvati has a very modern relationship with writer Vijay, but they maintain separate apartments. Food, family, music, and friendships make for a very lively memoir as Miranda struggles, along with her friends, to figure out her future.