Transitioning between cultures

Friday, March 8, 2013

"The Abundance," by Amit Majmudar. Metropolitan Books, 255 pp. $26.

It's difficult to understand coming into a culture so different from the one you're used to. In many cases, especially if you're beyond a certain age, the original culture never really leaves you behind.

The narrator in Amit Majmudar's "The Abundance" has never lessened her grasp on her Indian heritage. She still makes dahi and rotli from hand; she still cares for her husband wholly in the home and expects him to care for her wholly outside of it.

Her children have grown and left her home. They have jobs and support their own families. Her daughter succumbed to an arranged marriage, though she feeds her children macaroni and cheese and soy dogs. Her son married an American woman, a girl he'd dated since grade school without his mother's knowledge. Their children have names that could be pronounced correctly in either American or Indian households.

She is the last remaining testament to her culture in her family, from what she can see. And yet, she is dying. Cancer will soon claim her, for better or for worse.

"Can I help?" her daughter, Mala, asks one night when she is too weak to make dinner. This question leads to the beginning of a mother-daughter bond that had never before existed between them. They began cooking together, she began teaching her daughter the dishes her mother once taught her. With the food, also, came the culture and the heritage she brought from India.

I expected "The Abundance" to be told from the perspective of the children, because they are the ones who visibly transition the most through the novel. But this multi-faceted "prodigal child" story is told from the voice of the mother, who looks on as her family and her life move around her and anticipates the moment she will no longer join them.

"The Abundance" is intimate, most notably when the narrator's son seeks to publish the story of the mother-daughter reunion, complete with the recipes Mala has been meticulously documenting since the beginning. We see how personal this story truly is, especially to its characters.

Perhaps the biggest message of this book, likely the most subtle, isn't a call to return to the culture we used to hold dear. Instead, it's a merging of the old and the new, the native and the progressive, in order to create a new life, one that blends the two and allows all involved to live in harmony together.

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