Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: relationship fiction, women's fiction
Published by Lake Union Publishing on December 7, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop.org
In Mansi Shah's stunning debut novel, a family tragedy beckons a first-generation immigrant to the city of her birth, where she grapples with her family's past in search of where she truly belongs.
After her parents moved her and her brother to America, Preeti Desai never meant to tear her family apart. All she did was fall in love with a white Christian carnivore instead of a conventional Indian boy. Years later, with her parents not speaking to her and her controversial relationship in tatters, all Preeti has left is her career at a prestigious Los Angeles law firm.
But when Preeti receives word of a terrible accident in the city where she was born, she returns to India, where she'll have to face her estranged parents...and the complicated past they left behind. Surrounded by the sights and sounds of her heritage, Preeti catches a startling glimpse of her family's battles with class, tradition, and sacrifice. Torn between two beautifully flawed cultures, Preeti must now untangle what home truly means to her.
“That love is all there is is all we know of love.” Not just romantic love, but love in all its forms. The love between a parent and their child, the love between all the members of an interconnected family, the love between friends, and the hope of love that might grow in spite of all the forces arrayed against.
Especially when one of those loves – or all of them – confuse the pluperfect crap out of us.
Not that Preeti Desai doesn’t begin this story in a state of confusion – or that her entire history isn’t fraught with it. Preeti is caught between two worlds, two perspectives, and multiple variations of all of those different versions of love.
Her parents immigrated from India to the United States when Preeti was still in elementary school. Or when she was of an age to be in elementary school in the U.S. A child who could, and did, do her very best to assimilate and adapt to the world in which she was now immersed. No matter how cruel children could be to anyone who was different, and how much of herself and the traditions she was born into she had to drop along her way.
Preeti’s parents wanted both her and her older brother Neel to be successful according to American culture, while still retaining all the traditional beliefs they had been raised with. That meant good grades, good schools, and careers in worthy professions. Her parents scrimped and saved in order for Neel to become a doctor and Preeti a lawyer.
As much of a shock as it was for her parents, who had been upper-middle class professionals in India, to discover that their qualifications did not immigrate with them and both their status and the family finances took a huge hit, they were able to maintain their immersion in the culture they had physically left behind by not leaving it behind. Chicago is filled with many nearly self-contained neighborhoods, and “Little India” on Devon Avenue is one of those neighborhoods.
For Neel and Preeti, but especially for Preeti, straddling those two worlds was somewhere between difficult and impossible. The tradition her parents expected her to adhere to, where women were expected to maintain the home and fade into the background there – no matter what their professional accomplishments – was the exact opposite of the expectations of the American workplace – especially for an attorney climbing the ladder towards partnership in a high-powered firm.
By the time this story opens, Preeti’s family, particularly in the relationship between her mother and herself – a relationship that is so often fraught between mothers and their grown daughters – had fractured into stilted conversations and cold silences – a frozen bridge that neither could cross.
Until tragedy struck. And Preeti felt compelled to set all of that history aside to take the next plane back to the place of her birth, to do whatever she could to help her brother and his wife through the death of their child.
Preeti comes for Neel. But that puts her on the horns of ALL the dilemmas. She and her mother need to be on the same side – a place they haven’t been since her parents moved to the U.S. Preeti is stuck living with all the expectations of gender, clan and caste in a place that she barely remembers, under restrictions that she often doesn’t see until she’s blown past them.
The longer she’s in Ahmedabad, the more she sees the beauty of not just the place, but of reclaiming the part of herself that she left behind. And the more she and her mother are finally able to see themselves as women who may not always meet each other’s expectations, but who love each other all the same and can finally accept each other as they are and not who they expect the other to be.
Escape Rating A+: This is an absolutely lovely, heartwarming and occasionally heartbreaking story. I was so absorbed in it that I didn’t even notice the cats using me as a trampoline. I was just completely gone. It is incredible that this is the author’s first published novel, because it is just so very, very good.
It’s also explicitly not a romance. Not that Preeti doesn’t have romantic problems, because she does. She’s 30 and unmarried in a culture that thinks she’s a spinster because she isn’t married while proclaiming her as “unclean” because she’s been out on dates. But Preeti’s romantic tribulations are symbols and symptoms of all the other issues in her life and not the meat of the story.
The story reads like it’s about two things. On the surface – and pretty deeply underneath that surface – it’s about the interconnected relationships in her extended family. One of the explicit messages is that there is no right or wrong here, everyone only wants what’s best for everyone else. The issue is in defining that best for someone who lives at the crossroads between the collectivist culture of her birthplace and the individualist expectations of her adopted home.
Preeti has to find her own way to a comfortable seat at that crossroad. She and her mother have to find a path through the minefield of their relationship, and accept each other as who they are – a difficult minefield for any mother and daughter to navigate.
The story is also about the price that America demands from those who immigrate to this country. The melting pot melts the newcomer’s resistance to American culture and values. If the newcomer is visibly different from the American “norm’ – meaning especially not white – they are expected to give up the culture they left behind even though, as Preeti finally admits to herself, knowing that they will never be fully accepted because no matter how hard they try, they can never completely blend in.
This is a story that has a lot to say about relationships of all kinds. Preeti’s family issues are the heart of the story, along with Preeti’s own journey of self-discovery. The Taste of Ginger is just a beautiful and thought provoking story and I loved every minute of reading it.
I hope you will, too.