11 April 2017

Review #595: South Haven by Hirsh Sawhney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.”

----Jalaluddin Rumi

Hirsh Sawhney, an Indian-American author, has penned a heart touching family drama in his debut contemporary fiction, South Haven that revolves around a fictional town about an Indian-American young boy trying to cope with the loss of his mother in a household that is going to hit the rock bottom pretty soon, if he doesn't take up the responsibilities, all the while keeping his feelings about growing up, religious extremism, teenage angst, friendships, peer pressure and relationships under control.


Siddharth Arora lives an ordinary life in the New England suburb of South Haven, but his childhood comes to a grinding halt when his mother dies in a car accident. Siddharth soon gravitates toward a group of adolescent bullies, drinking and smoking instead of drawing and swimming. He takes great pains to care for his depressive father, Mohan Lal, an immigrant who finds solace in the hateful Hindu fundamentalism of his homeland and cheers on Indian fanatics who murder innocent Muslims. When a new woman enters their lives, Siddharth and his father have a chance at a fresh start. They form a new family, hoping to leave their pain behind them.

South Haven is no simple coming-of-age tale or hero's journey, blurring the line between victim and victimize and asking readers to contend with the lies we tell ourselves as we grieve and survive. Following in the tradition of narratives by Edwidge Danticat and Junot Díaz, Sawhney draws upon the measured lyricism of postcolonial writers like Michael Ondaatje but brings to his subjects distinctly American irreverence and humor.

The book opens with the accidental death of Siddharth's mother that spins off the whole family from their normal track, as the father and the two sons struggle to cope with grief and loss in their own way. After his mother's death, Siddharth found himself caught between the divided and schismatic worlds of his morbid and constantly angry father, Mohan Lal and his way too liberal elder brother, Arjun, who went off to college right after the accident. So left with his father, who gradually found solace in the Hinduism extremist ideas that preached negative ideals about Muslims, Siddharth tries to hold his family together despite of his tender age and impressionistic mindset. Siddharth and Mohan Lal's lives take a 180 degree turn when Siddharth's school's guidance counselor Ms. Farber becomes a common household presence and eventually Siddharth too learns to trust this woman and his son, Marc, although Marc's influence on Siddharth is more on the negative side, amidst his teenage mistakes, bullying and angst.

The backdrop of the story line that is set against a fictional suburban town in New Haven, is flawlessly and vividly captured by the author. The readers can get an insight into the lives of such folks whose worlds from the outside looks squeaky clean yet from the inside looks extremely ripped apart. Considering his own experiences, the author has honestly portrayed the struggles and the challenges faced by an immigrant and their family in America. From the streets to the food habits to the life style, the author arrests every tiny details of a suburb town impeccably into the story line.

The author's writing style is brilliant, laced with dark humor in the eloquent prose of the story. The narrative is filled with hilarity and evocatively laced with sensitivity towards religious extremist ideals and the human relations and those connected emotions. The story line develops at almost snail's pace as the events occur at a gradual speed with, at times, unwanted details and descriptions that often make the story bit dull. Although the story telling is tastefully done by the author as the readers will be compelled to stay engaged into the very heart of the story line.

The characters are well developed, synced well with their realistic side, thereby making them look unique and genuine in the eyes of the readers. The author has devised them with such deep emotions that their individual stories will make the readers comprehend with their pain and grief thoroughly. Siddharth is a young adult who behaves maturely unlike his age, and is a very serious young man who learns to cope with the adult world and adult emotions alongside his own dark feelings about the world. Mohan Lal is careless man whose character develops a lot through the entire plot as he learns to take care of his responsibilities and his anger towards the Muslim society. Arjun, although he has very slight presence in the story, yet the author unfolded his character with utmost thoughtfulness. The rest of the characters from the book are extremely eccentric and interesting enough to etch out an impression onto the minds of its readers long after the story has ended.

In a nutshell, this is a captivating story about an immigrant family learning to cope with loss, pain and religious indifferences, all the while trying to adjust themselves among the life style of their town.

Verdict: This is an emotional joy ride of family drama where laughter and tears will greet the face of the readers.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author, Hirsh Sawhney and his publishers from Harper Collins India, for giving me an opportunity to read and review this book.

Author Info:
Hirsh Sawhney has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, Time Out New York, Outlook, and the Indian Express. He has taught English to asylum seekers in London and was the director of an adult education program that served undocumented immigrants in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.
Visit him here

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