Sanjena Sathian's debut novel Gold Diggers is full of voice. Neil – Neeraj, when his parents are crazy – Narayan's voice, to be precise, tells the defining stories of his life from a hazy point in the future that is only hinted at at first. His boisterous, sometimes painful, and ultimately extremely satisfying story begins when he is a teenager who lives in Hammond Creek, Georgia with his parents and older sister. He believes his existence was shaped by his parents' ambitions for him, but now that he's in high school he has some ambitions of his own. Mostly these are girls who adapt and get bigger – the usual teenage stuff.
The first half of the novel deals with Neil's youth and in particular with his relationship with the Quicksilver Anita, his neighbor and childhood friend, who has changed in him, which he does not appreciate. Suddenly she's hanging out with the popular set and is soon going to a fancy private school. There's nothing very suspicious about that, but Neil's crush on her shows in the attention he pays to her, even if he doesn't put it so bluntly, and makes him believe the way she's changing is something suspicious .
Neil is the son of Indian immigrants to the United States and his location is certainly recognizable to many first generation Americans. He's caught between a rock and a hard place; between parents who love him deeply, although they burden him with pressure and expectations, and a country and a culture in which he is supposed to succeed (see: the harmful myth of the exemplary minority), but who still belittle him, emasculates him and moves him to the edges of his narrative, if it lets him in at all.
At the beginning of the novel, Neil tells us, "I wish everyone would give up on me. Their looks were too powerful, their hopes too high for me. Because it felt like it wasn't our job in Hammond Creek back then, just it to do." growing up but growing up so that our parents' decision made sense to leave behind everything they knew to cross the oceans. I couldn't bear to be the only one among them – Prachi, Manu, Anita – who achieved nothing, who ultimately didn't become anyone at all. "
When Neil discovers that Anita and her mother Anjali brewed a secret alchemical invention with stolen gold and ambition to help Anita succeed, he understandably wants the consequences doomed.
One of the wonderful things about Sathian's writing is how imperfectly Neil allows it to be: he can be shallow, vain, awkward, and selfish. Even so, it's so easy for him to take root because he's so terribly alive.
One of the wonderful things about Sathian's writing is how imperfectly Neil allows it to be: he can be shallow, vain, awkward, and selfish. Still, it's so easy for him to put down roots because he's so terribly alive and his adult narrative honestly inhabits his youthful self without glossing over. He is also wise, in his own way, to be able to see the rifts that form between generations, such as "any emphasis on reaching a certain future came from a fear of just not knowing any of us to know what life could be here. There was no room to imagine several kinds of futures. We would use all our might to conjure up one: Harvard. "
Throughout the book, Neil quietly searches for something to help him tell a narrative to fit into in this country where his parents grew up and is supposed to belong. He finds one such story in the library where a physicist named Pramesh Neil tells of a Bombayan gold digger in California during the gold rush. The story sparks Neil's imagination: "If I had roots in American soil … if our collective past were more structured than I thought there might be other ways to get tan."
Pramesh also introduces Neil to the concept of eternityism: "The idea is that past, present, and future are all equally real. They may even co-exist." This concept also forms the core of the book's structure, incorporating historical fictions, truths, and family stories into the main narrative, exemplifying how time makes linear sense rather than how past, present, and future paths sometimes collide in unexpected ways.
Neil studies history in the second half of the novel, which takes place a decade after the first. "I wrote every personal revelation I had this summer in the Bombayan," says Neil, "and woven my little story with his big story. Little by little, I lent him my story. Just imagine, him would have lived a version of what we have. " was through … Because wasn't he a gold thief too? "
In history we can find reflections of ourselves, trajectories that we never imagined would fit within us. But history is also difficult in that it is most often written by people in positions of power who have the ability to obliterate the existence or meaning of others. Sometimes the only way to make a story stand out is to write in it, read between the lines, and add a dash of invention. And who should say that that isn't some kind of truth too?
Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American novelist, critic, and founder / host of The Other Stories podcast. Her debut novel is All My Mother & # 39; s Lovers.