– By Erin Takeuchi –
Name of Book: The Golden Son
Author: Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Anil is the eldest son of a wealthy family in rural India destined to take over the family business. Leena is the daughter of farmers and his closest friend. However, as they get older they grow apart. He is an ambitious young man and the first of his family to attend college, leave for the United States, and become a doctor. She marries a man her family approves of and moves to a distant village to live with him. He questions his worth as a doctor after he makes a fatal medical error. She works hard cooking and cleaning for her new family. Years later, they form a strong friendship despite their parents’ objections. It’s a powerful story about family, love and finding your own identity.
The Golden Son is the first novel I’ve read by Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I wasn’t disappointed. She beautifully illustrates two very different worlds – the traditional Indian village of Panchanagar and the foreign and harsh city of Dallas, Texas. Both are places where Anil and Leena find hate, independence and self-discovery.
Anil is an interesting character because he must reconcile his family’s values and the “corruption” of western influence. While trying to find this balance, he makes mistakes in all aspects of his life, which made me root for his success. At first, Leena’s character doesn’t hold the same appeal for me that Anil’s did. Gowda depicts her as someone whose fate lies in marriage because there are no other options. She is intelligent but suffers mistreatment by her new family in silence and I felt sorry for her.
What I didn’t understand was the purpose of Amber, an American and Anil’s first love. They want to spend all their time together and he even loses his virginity to her. Originally, I thought she was there to provide contrast. Her relationship with Anil was founded on respect, whereas, Leena and Girish’s was abusive. However, despite Amber’s “love” for Anil, she lets her family’s and friend’s discrimination come between them.
Death, violence and recovery are themes that change the course of Leena’s and Anil’s lives. Firstly, death is both a defining and freeing aspect in this book. For Anil, his father’s untimely passing means he feels obligated to take over the role of clan leader and family arbiter. For Leena, her father’s suicide means freedom from her family’s debt. Secondly, the violence that happens to both characters propels their stories forward. Anil is determined to succeed as a doctor after his friend is badly beaten and Leena works hard to become financially secure after she escapes verbal and physical abuse. Finally, recovery is about discovering where they belong in the world. Anil compromises his goals as a doctor so he can have a personal life and spend more time in India. Leena finds peace by working and making money off of her family’s land.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing India and Dallas through The Golden Son. The flawed characters, intriguing storylines and cultural differences kept me reading until the end.