Sanjena Satian’s debut novel, Gold prospectorsfull of voices. Neil – Neeraj when his parents are angry – more precisely, the voice of Narayan, telling the defining stories of his life from a foggy point of the future that was initially only hinted at. His noisy, at times painful and ultimately very enjoyable story begins when he lives as a teenager in Hammond Creek, Georgia, with his parents and older sister. He believes his existence was shaped by his parents’ ambitions for him, but now that he is in high school, he has several ambitions of his own. These are mostly girls who fit and grow taller – a common thing for teenage boys.
The first half of the novel is devoted to Neal’s youth and, in particular, his relationship with the fickle Anita, his neighbor and childhood friend, who changes him, which he does not appreciate. She suddenly hangs out with a popular group and soon enters a trendy private school. Nothing suspicious about it, but Neal’s crush on her is evident in the attention he gives her, even if he doesn’t state it so frankly, and makes him believe there is something suspicious about the way she is changing.
Neil is the son of Indian immigrants to the United States, and his predicament is no doubt familiar to many first-generation Americans. He is sandwiched between a rock and a hard place; between parents who love him dearly, even when they load him with pressure and expectations, and the country and culture in which he must succeed (see the devastating myth of the exemplary minority), but who still belittle him, emasculate him, and move him to the edge of its narrative, if it lets it in at all.
At the beginning of the novel, Neal tells us, “I wanted everyone to leave me. Their views were too strong, their hopes for me were too high. grow up, but grow up in a way that makes sense in our parents’ choice to leave behind everything they knew, to cross the oceans. I could not be the only one among them – Prachi, Manu, Anita – who did not achieve anything, who eventually became nothing at all. “
So when Neil discovers that Anita and her mother, Anjali, have been brewing a secret alchemical mixture, using stolen gold and ambition to help Anita succeed, he understandably wants the consequences to hell.
One of the great things about Satian’s writing is how imperfect she allows Neil to be: he can be superficial, conceited, clumsy, and selfish. However, it is so easy to root for him because he is terribly alive, his adult storytelling honestly, without embellishment, inhabits his adolescent self. He is also wise in his own way, able to see the cracks that form between generations, and how “every emphasis on reaching a certain future came from the concern of the common man. not knowing, None of us knowing what life could be here. It was impossible to imagine many kinds of the future. We would put all our efforts into creating the only one – Harvard. “
Throughout the book, Neal is quietly looking for something to help him. know, a narrative that he can fit into in a country in which his parents decided that he should grow up and belong to him. He finds one such story in the library, where a physicist named Pramesh tells Neal about a Bombay gold digger in California during the gold rush. The story sparks Neal’s imagination: “If I had roots on American soil … if our collective past was more structured than I thought, then, well, maybe there were other ways to be brown.”
Pramesh also introduces Neal to the concept of eternalism: “You see, the idea is that the past, present, and future are all equally real. Perhaps they even coexist. ” This concept also underpins the structure of the book, which integrates historical fiction, truths and family stories into a main narrative, demonstrating how time has and has no linear meaning, how past, present and future collide. sometimes in unexpected ways.
After all, Neil studies the story in the second half of the novel, which takes place ten years after the first. “I wrote every personal revelation I had that summer in Bombay,” Neil tells us, “braiding my little story with his Big story. Gradually, I lent him my story. Imagined that he was living some version of what we are. ” I went through … Wasn’t he also a golden thief? “
In history, we can find a reflection of ourselves, trajectories that we did not even know about, we could fit in. But history is also difficult, because more often than not, it is written by those in power, those who are able to erase the existence or importance of others. Sometimes the only way to validate a story is to write it down, read between the lines, and add a little ingenuity. And who can say that this is also not true?
Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American science fiction writer, critic, and founder / host of The Other Stories podcast. Her debut novel All my mother’s lovers…