The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is a heartwarming story filled with nostalgia. Here is the book review which is going to be a bit longer than my usual reviews as I thoroughly loved and savoured reading ‘The Golden Son’!
From the beloved author of ‘Secret Daughter’ comes a moving new novel of a young man at the crossroads of life
Anil is the cherished son of a large family in rural India. As the eldest boy, he is expected to inherit the role of leader of his clan and arbiter of its disputes, dispensing wisdom and good advice. Leena is his closest companion, a fiercely brave girl who loves nothing more than the wild terrain they inhabit and her close-knit family. As childhood friends, they are inseparable—but as adulthood approaches, they grow apart.
Anil is the first person in his family to leave India, the first to attend college, the first to become a doctor. Half a world away in Dallas, Texas, he is caught up in his new life, experiencing all the freedoms and temptations of American culture: he tastes alcohol for the first time, falls in love, and learns firsthand about his adopted country’s alluring, dangerous contradictions. Though his work in a gritty urban hospital is gruelling, Anil is determined to carve out his own life in America.
At home, Leena dreams of marriage, a strong and true love like the one shared by her parents, and leaves her beloved home to join her new husband’s family in a distant village.
Then things start to go wrong: Anil makes a medical mistake with tragic results, his first love begins to fray and a devastating event makes him question his worth as a doctor and as a friend. On a visit home, Anil rekindles a friendship with the woman who seems to understand him better than anyone else. But their relationship is complicated by a fateful decision made years earlier.
As the two old friends discover each other again, they must also weigh the choice between responsibility and freedom, and between loyalty and love.
Storyline of The Golden Son
The story deals with the ordeals of the eldest son of a rich family-Anil and the only daughter of a farmer couple-Leena.The disparity in their social conditions and status does not stop Anil and Leena, to forge a bond of friendship during their childhood. However, as they enter adolescence they drift apart due to various reasons.
Anil who hails from a family of landlords migrates to the US for higher studies in medicine and is in for a cultural shock both at the workplace and personal life. Still, he copes and adapts well as time goes, so much so, that he wants to settle in the US(like any other Indian immigrant).
Back home, he has left his childhood friend-Leena and his own huge family consisting of his parents, three brothers and a sister. Once Anil moves to Texas, Leena gets married into a so-called ‘good family’.
How does Anil respond to Leena’s marriage? What is Leena’s reaction?
Well, you will have to read the book to know ‘What’ happens in the lives of all these characters post-Anil’s move to the US and the development of Anil as a balanced individual, which forms the crux of the story.
The characterization needs a special mention as the writer has made sure that every character-animate or inanimate, has its importance, purpose and a ‘say’ in the story. Every character supports and helps the other characters around them to grow as an individual and develop their cognitive skills-be it the Mango tree, the potter’s wheel, the clay wares, the various wards in the hospital or the innocent kids.
The characterization of Baldev helps in easing out the situations at many instances and re-emphasizing that ‘Life is a Celebration’. Also, each of the female characters has a strong sense of assessment and take bold and altruistic decisions, irrespective of their economic and social background. Be it Leena, Sonal Mehta or Trinity. Readers will be able to associate with these characters in some way or the other and I guess this is where the writer triumphs!
The Golden Son is a ‘Coming of Age’ story of the protagonists.
The writer has also brought out the contrast between rural and urban, developed and developing nations, modern and orthodox insights very beautifully through the two places of Panchanagar in India and Dallas in Texas, USA. The boons and banes of both joint families and nuclear families have been well put forth. Social evil like dowry has been stressed at large. The description of the well-equipped Parkview hospital of Dallas to the lack of medical facilities in and around Panchanagar talks about the health care facilities and lack of competent health professionals in India.
This contrast has been brought about in such a way that every emigrant from India will be forced to rethink his/her move to Developed nations. A sense of guilt/frustration is bound to engulf the reader (for good though!) However, Shilpi manages to find a balance between Western and Indian medicine by highlighting the medicinal value of Neem and Ayurveda through Piya and Sonal’s character!
Apart from this, the apprehensions of an immigrant in US, the psychological complexities one goes through, a loss of identity, a sense of dissatisfaction, frustration and isolation when faced with challenges and of course a sense of ‘Awe’ and long-lasting friendships one makes in a new land have been very well depicted metaphorically ,through the many pages of the book.
For example the day Anil lands in Dallas, the writer echoes his appreciation through the following words: ‘He was struck by the feeling of abundance that seemed to define America. The open Airport, sparse roads….everywhere there was more than necessary’.
The frequent references ( or should I say ‘reverence’) to the ‘Hot Chai’ is sure to make any reader nostalgic.
I am glad that the writer has not compromised on the pages devoted to giving details of the medical procedures and arbitrations.These add authenticity to the story of The Golden Son and help it move forward.(Remember the works of Robin Cook?!)
Shilpi brings out a balance between the genders when she describes the hardships of Anil and Leena in settling in their own new homes.One tries to adjust to a new land, whereas the other tries to adjust to a new family.The writer has very cleverly managed to keep the reader intrigued by giving twists to the story. Until the end, one is clueless about the girl Anil will eventually marry, whether Anil and Leena will come together and will Anil ever return back to India!
Overall, the novel’s synthesis of a realistic narrative, elaborative descriptions, psychological complexities and astute references to social customs and traditions is sure to strike a chord with the Indian diaspora across the globe.
‘The Golden Son’ is a ‘Coming of Age’ novel, in true (Indian) sense! Do savour this literary feast by grabbing a copy of it.
I give this book a rating of 4 / 5!
Title: The Golden Son
Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Publishers: Harper Collins Publishers, India
Total Pages: 393
A copy of The Golden Son was provided to me by the publishers in exchange for my honest review.
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