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The Americans, by Chita Viragahavan.

April 18, 2015

The Americans, by Chita Viragahavan. HarperCollins, 2015.

A multi-character novel about immigrants and their families in the United States, most of them from India.

This novel is a composite of many stories. About twenty individuals hold the focus of its chapters. Their stories constantly interrupt each other, usually breaking in just as excitement builds. Some of their lives are interwoven, with various members of the same families giving differing accounts of the same events. Others seem totally unrelated until we discover that each has some connection to Tara, a single woman in her thirties, who is in America for a few months helping out her sister. Most of the characters are from India, but also included among them is a Jewish woman from Israel, a family from Mexico, and the reading notes of a black woman just starting college.

The author makes perceptive observations about life in America, showing how immigrants often break or lose the close ties they once had to their families.

Individually the stories are interesting, but together they become somewhat overwhelming. Some of the characters are rich and others poor; some are involved in dangerous activities, and they live all over the country. While the novel reveals an understanding of the diversity of immigrant life and a sympathy to its diversity, I found it tried to include too much. The constant shifting of place and character interfered with any attempt to deal with anyone adequately. I would have enjoyed the book more if it had been constructed more simply as a collection of short stories.

This is the first novel by Chitra Viragahavan, a woman who has lived and taught in various cities in India as well as in Boston.

I recommend it to those looking for fiction about immigrants coming to American in the present.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2015 8:14 am

    Sounds like an ambitious novel that didn’t quite manage to do justice to all its characters. I love reading books with multiple narrators and see how they relate to each other, but I usually try to stay with less than five narrators. 20 is too much and the few books I’ve read with more than five narrators has never quite worked out for me.

    • April 21, 2015 11:33 am

      I totally agree. And there is something else I think matters; how skilled the author is. The multiple-voiced novels I like best are the ones where there is a strong clear connection between the accounts, such as when different people are responding to the same situation.

  2. April 22, 2015 4:14 pm

    As I was reading your review, sounds like the novel should have been short stories, then you nailed it! I guess trimming down the number of characters and their stories was hard for the writer.

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