Invitation: A Novel Hardcover – May 29 2012
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Starred review. ...Cherian’s straightforward storytelling is riveting and rarely goes amiss... and the climax is fervent. — Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Anne Cherian is the author of A Good Indian Wife. Born and raised in Jamshedpur, India, she now lives in Los Angeles, California.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Anne Cherian's newest novel The Invitation is like an Indian version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Jump head-first into the fast-paced lives of three couples: Frances and Jay, Lali and Jonathan, Vikram and Priya. The characters are multifaceted and complicated, a precarious combination of Indian roots, American futures, and the mixed-in-between present in which each of them lives.
Frances and Jay are a hard-working Indian couple who are always short on time and money. Not only is Frances' real-estate career failing to thrive, but her daughter is failing high school. Hearing that their old friend's son is graduating from a prestigious school is like a slap in the face. The two are mortified that their friends will find out about their daughter's failings. Jay also feels unaccomplished next to his successful friend Vikram and wonders why his life can't be as "perfect." He came from a wealthy Indian family and was always destined to accomplish big things...why is it that these big things haven't happened?
Lali and Jonathan's marriage is crumbling as Jonathan rediscovers his Jewish roots and Lali cannot connect with his passion. She feels alone and left out of Jonathan's world and begins to rekindle an old flame. The possibility for an affair is right in front of her if she wants it. Is it worth the risk of discovery?
Vikram and Priya live in a mansion and drive expensive cars. Vikram's software company is hugely successful and his eldest son has just graduated from MIT. Everything is perfect...or so they want the world to believe. That's why they're throwing the graduation party. In truth, their son has no intention of taking over his father's business and using his degree. He wants to become a chef. Vikram hates this idea. His perfect life is full of discontent and conflict, making it all the harder to clothe his life in a sheath of faux-perfection.
The book's ending was abrupt and inconclusive, but that's my only complaint. I was instantly enthralled by the couples' intertwining lives. I loved the humanity of the characters the imperfections of their lives, despite their efforts to prove to the Indian community that they have it all. The Invitation is fresh and funny. Prepare to step into the colorful and unique lives of these American Indians. You'll love every moment of it.
by Jennifer Melville
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
Twenty-five years later, Vikram has invited his old friends to attend a party celebrating his son Nikhil's graduation from MIT. And while Jay, Frances, and Lali decide to attend the party more out of curiosity than anything else, none of their lives have been as smooth as they believe Vikram's is. Frances, who abandoned the pursuit of her PhD when she started having children, now sells real estate, although she hasn't sold a house in more than a year, Jay's middle-management job isn't quite what he imagined he'd be doing, and their oldest daughter is failing 11th grade. Lali's marriage is struggling as her husband begins to explore his neglected Jewish roots, and her son decides he wants to take a year off from college. And while Vikram is mostly concerned with the appearance of success, his son is not interested in pursuing the path Vikram feels he should. As the four prepare for the party and then meet at Vikram's mansion in Newport Beach, they need to decide how much truth they'll divulge to their friends, not realizing how the truth reveals itself in ways you never expect.
The plot of The Invitation is certainly familiar, but Anne Cherian's adept storytelling hooks you quickly and immerses you in each of the characters' lives and struggles. I felt like Cherian did a good job in trying not to have her characters adhere to cultural stereotypes, although you see how easy it is to slip back into old habits. Ultimately, however, the story veered a bit into melodramatic territory, which I felt undercut the book's effectiveness. I think Cherian is a very good writer, but it seemed to me that she lost a little steam as the book neared its end, although it is still an enjoyable read.
In "The Invitation," Vic sends out an over-the-top, glitzy invitation for 150 people to attend his son's graduation party, celebrating Nik's graduation from MIT. The invitation hits hard among Nik's college friends, all of whom fear not having achieved what they so archly would believe to be their American success stories. Everybody wants a kid like Nik, one to show off to the friends how Indian parenting even in the new climate of the USA can produce the next generation of millionaires.
Vic owns a home in Newport Beach, CA. He has a traditional Indian bride, Priya, from an arranged marriage. Their two sons, especially the older one, receive the gift and the burden of fulfilling their parents' hopes. . .except someone forgot to tell the parents that kids grow into adults, who choose their own paths. The traditional ways of Priya and her learning of American customs are highlights of this book.
The couples have not met in 25 years. The women worry about their weight, their wrinkles, their choice of attire, and the behavior of their children. One child in particular, 17-year old Mandy, is the opposite of Nik. She is getting bad grades, and her parents have decided she will go to India with her mother to learn how to follow academic standards and quit being babied by the American school system. She is a dark and rebellious teen, so her appearance at the party portends all kinds of fears for her mom and dad, Francis and Jay.
Lali and Jonathan handle a different problem. Lali has married a white American. Their son, Aaron, looks like his father. He's at Harvard, so that brings big bragging rights. Except, he doesn't really like Harvard.
The early parts of the book reveal the different backgrounds of the six characters. Much is told in flashback. The contrast between Indian values and American values in terms of food, dress, boy-girl interactions, and respect for parents are woven into the geographical complexities of India and of Southern California.
"The Invitation" brings the reader to a better understanding of what immigrant dreams are made of and how the American dream of individualism sometimes conflicts with that dream. Four stars only for many pages of "telling" rather than "showing," but an enjoyable, quick read with an abrupt, unexpected ending.