Published: 12 September 2017
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Category: Young Adult/Contemporary/Historical Fiction
Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve Bengal tigers and her Bengali identity– award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.
Rating: 4 Stars
You Bring the Distant Near is a well executed story of heritage, expectations, points of view, and how to live in a world where these things clash.
Each generation had something that was important to their story. While these themes overlapped, they were stronger with the woman/women who are the focal point in the time period. It was interesting to see as Ranee’s children, who have lived in many countries, adapted to America in contrast to their mother at first. There were prejudices to be dealt with and none were resolved quite so easily as perhaps Tara and Anna would have liked.
Even as the years passed and progress came into their lives, there were still difficulties hanging over from the past, such as Ranee’s views of black people. Anna’s Indian heritage, so vital to her personal identity (not least of which is because she was raised in Mumbai), is challenged when she feels her family is becoming too Americanized. It was difficult to watch these women struggle with their views, some changing over time and some needing coaching. Shanti’s own identity is brought into sharp focus during a clash between her grandmothers: Ranee, a Bengali widow, and Rose, an African-American drama teacher whose views about their families don’t mesh well for several years. Shanti’s outburst and her declaration that she’s “both” was powerful, not only to herself but to those around her.
The synopsis was somewhat misleading in details regarding the story, or at least how important they are to the individual women. Anna certainly fights to preserve her Bengali identity and that of her grandmother, but the reference to Bengal tigers is mentioned once and I don’t believe ever again. Ranee does try to preserve her children’s Indian heritage, but again, not nearly so much as the synopsis would lead you to believe.
I loved reading the stories of these women, over the course of several decades. I felt at the end, though, that it bordered on too short? Each section felt good but like it could have been so much more involved.
The writing style makes me certain that I will be looking for more works by this author, as I was wrapped up in the story so well that I didn’t want it to end.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.