Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Canadian
Source: Local Public Library
First Line: "Anil Patel was ten years old the first time he witnessed one of Papa's arbitrations."
Book Description from GoodReads: 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 grueling, 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.
My Review: I have been so eager to read another book by Canadian author Shilpi Somaya Gowda since I simply adored her first book, Secret Daughter back in August 2010. Once again Ms Gowda doesn't disappoint her readers.
The Golden Son is a culture-filled coming of age story that also showcases the complexities of family bonds and friendships. Anil is a young man who lives precariously between two worlds - Gujarat, a small, rural town in India where he was born and raised as part of the town's most respected families and Texas where he is training to be a doctor.
Anil is initially a fish out of water as he struggles to acclimate to life in Texas, Western culture/technology and sadly racism and ignorance. He struggles with the individualism he has in the States versus the communal, family obligations that he has back in India, specifically the demands put on him by his family as the eldest son and the Arbiter for Gujarat, an old tradition of a respected person settling grievances of family and friends in a community.
The story also follows Leena, Anil's childhood friend who was raised on a neighbouring farm as the daughter of a tenant farmer. She follows a more traditional path for her life back in India with some heartbreaking results. While these two lead very different lives they are both struggling to find their own ways.
The only criticism I have regarding this book is that, at times, Anil's medical school issues were more at the forefront than I would have liked. I was much more invested in his personal/cultural issues than what studies he was working on for his education.
As with Secret Daughter, Gowda teaches her readers about the complexities and beauty of Indian culture. Her characters are interesting and as I read the book I figured I knew how it would all play out but Gowda threw in some unexpected twists. The book ended with a different outcome than I was expecting yet it was still a very satisfying conclusion.
My Rating: 4/5 stars