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Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Coming Of Age In America

What happens when a self-doubting and insecure Parsi girl is struggling to get self-assured? In this novel, her parents send her to America, to stand on her own two feet and become more poised and confident. That is exactly what happens to Feroza Ginwalla in Bapsi Sidhwa’s “An American Brat.” This is an engaging coming of age story, with Sidhwa’s distinctive vivid and colorful characterization.
Life in America, for Feroza, begins with a horrifying experience at the airport soon after she lands. Her uncle Manek, who is a student at MIT helps her get settled and convinces her to go to school in America. He also teaches Feroza, her first valuable lesson, “The first lesson you learn in America is you don’t get something for nothing.” Feroza and Manek’s escapades in New York and Boston are comic yet touching.
Her life as a student in Twin Falls, Idaho, is no different from that of any foreign student who arrives in America, from a mollycoddled mode of life. She struggles to find her way and yet manages to settle into school. Along the way she also makes friends of all kinds and learns all about relationships, good and bad.
Manek meanwhile, goes back to Pakistan to get married to a nice Parsi girl. During this visit to Pakistan he reveals his secret to his family, “America is Paradise,” he says, and that’s what keeps him going. As long as one has figured out how to function within the system, then the going will be great in America he assures his family, putting aside their fears of immoral behavior and other apprehensions. After his wedding he comes back to Cambridge to finish his Ph.D.
Meanwhile Feroza and her best friend Jo, visit Jo’s family in Denver. Fascinated by life in a large city, they decide to transfer to the University of Denver, to study Hotel Management. This move is followed by Feroza’s first visit home, and this time her family is stunned to see a confident and glowing Feroza who knows her mind, refuses to get married and wants a career and more importantly wants the ability to stand on her own two feet.
Only her grandmother Khutlibai sees a little more than the others, “ Her gaze lingered on Feroza’s vibrant face, and her shrewd eyes were luminous with pride and love. She saw life and intelligence shining in her face, but there was too much life there, she thought with a trace of unease, too much intelligence -- more than might be good for her granddaughter.”
While on the plane, on her way back to America, she finds that her family has gifted her $700, and Feroza is thrilled to use this cash to buy her first (second-hand) car. As fate would have it, the person from whom she is destined to buy the car is also destined to be the first love of her life. A blond haired blue-eyed David Press, is a man who is equally taken by Feroza’s beautiful features and shyness. A relationship blooms, and blossoms.
Soon a letter arrives at the Ginwalla’s home from Feroza, introducing David and a possible wedding with him. A shocked family immediately dispatches Feroza’s mother Zareen to Denver to foil the romance. Zareen feels lonely and helpless in a new country that she has lost her daughter to. “ I should have listened. I should have never let you go so far away. Look what it’s done to you -- you’ve become and American Brat,” she tells her daughter passionately, her daughter who stands to be excommunicated from the Parsi community for marrying outside of their tight knit group.
What stands out most in this novel is the relationship of the protagonist to both her religion and her upbringing, which clearly make her the person she is. Much as Feroza is fiercely independent and knows her own mind, her rearing and spirituality help guide her and pull her reins when she is going to fast for her own comfort.
This is a hilarious, prolific and deeply enlightening tale of a girl who experiences her new country only as an immigrant can, and comes of age on her own terms. To those who don’t know about the Parsi community, this is a great primer. Sidhwa’s vibrant writing and her lively characters go hand in hand in making this one of her most poignant and entertaining works yet.

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