Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
Random House, 2014
Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a beautiful story. It spans decades and continents — from Salem, India in the 1970s to Albuquerque, NM in the 1980s to Seattle, WA in the 1990s. It is the story of the Eapen family, bound together by tragedy and loss; by tradition and responsibility brought on by immigration; by total dysfunction; and by the ghosts that haunt them. It is the story of a family that is unable to escape the past, despite every desperate attempt. From Amina, the photographer daughter that is emotionally detached from friends and family, hiding behind the lens of her camera, to Thomas, her workaholic, brain-surgeon father that talks to dead family members in the middle of the night. Kamala, the mother, retreats to the kitchen where she finds solace in cooking the flavors of her homeland, with aromas that practically waft off the page and into your nostrils.
At the heart of the story, Amina returns home to New Mexico at the request of her mother, and begins to unravel not only a complicated and scary future, but a family history that they have all longed to bury. Their grief risks swallowing them up whole, while their individual pain serves to build walls between each other. And yet somehow, through their desire to capture a few more precious moments with their respective ghosts, they are reunited. I am reminded of a David Mitchell quote from Cloud Atlas, “Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
The storyline is compelling, with the challenges of immigration and assimilation always in the background. The cadence of speech flows effortlessly and beautifully across the page and the characters feel like neighbors and old friends by the end of the book. Mira’s debut novel is a treasure. The ending was tidied up a little too neatly for my taste, particularly given the level of family dysfunction throughout the story. But that certainly didn’t distract from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Click for the recipe that I have paired with this book review: Cauliflower and Chickpea Coconut Curry.
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