The Abundance: A Novel by Amit Majmudar
Release date: 272 pp / 2013
Synopsis (from Amazon):When Mala and Ronak learn that their mother has only a few months to live, they are reluctantly pulled back into the midwestern world of their Indian immigrant parents–a diaspora of prosperous doctors and engineers who have successfully managed to keep faith with the old world while claiming the prizes of the new. More successfully than their children–equally ill at ease with Holi and Christmas, bhaji and barbecue, they are mysteries to their parents and themselves. In the short time between diagnosis and deterioration, Mala sets about learning everything she can about her mother’s art of Indian cooking. Perfecting the naan and the raita, the two confront their deepest divisions and failures and learn to speak as well as cook.
Review: Somehow, despite issues I was having with an old email account that prevented publishers from reaching me with offers of books to review, The Abundance burst onto my iPhone (that only works in town) and beckoned. For the past year, fiction has left me uninspired and I have turned again and again to nonfiction. The Abundance has restored my love for the genre and reminded me that truth truly resides in the imagination. I began to read The Abundance while waiting to be assigned for jury duty and 100 pages later was a bit disappointed I was told to leave the courtroom and return home – this meant leaving the lives of Ab, Mala, and Ronak for the 30 minutes it would take to drive slowly up the snow-shrouded canyon.
The Abundance is about an Indian-American family — the parents moved to America before their children were born and returned to India only to visit family. I have a special love for stories about Indian-Americans – first realized through Jhumpa Lahiri, but now luminously reinforced by Majmudar. I am fascinated by the drive to succeed – the ability to succeed – shared by both cultures – but even more transfixed by the struggle to honor ancestors and a sacred culture and way of life, a way of life impossible to authentically realize for individuals born and raised in the U.S. The clash between ancestral expectation and the stronger bond of paternal and maternal love is endless in its possibilities.
In The Abundance, within the first few pages we learn that the narrator is dying and wishes for one more holiday with her son and daughter and their children before revealing the news. She had studied to become a doctor, but chose instead to raise her children. Her husband is a loving, devoted neurologist who is also an award-winning mathematician and devotes many hours to this passion. Their daughter, Mala, has become a doctor and is married with two children; Ronak, the son, is in finance – math without honor – also married with three sons. Their mother’s illness brings the family together and showcases Majmudar’s deft skill at creating characters we grow to know so intimately, flawed but redeemable, palpable on the page. He circles around and embraces universal themes of honor, individuation, loyalty, mortality and love. How Majmudar is able to “become” a woman facing the last year of her life, to inhabit a mother-daughter relationship, as a man is so unfathomable. And, best yet, the writing is luminous. For example:
“With cutting boards before us and a meal to be prepared, this is not a self-conscious heart-to-heart, taking place during time we have set aside to have one. The attention is off the words for once, and that inattention is sunlight. The words grow free and crack the pavement and cover the bricks in green.” 106
I’m afraid I will be keeping this one, but I strongly recommend this as an excellent choice for book clubs.