As anyone who reads my blog regularly knows, I rarely accept advance review copies of new books. There are two reasons for this: first, most of the offers I receive are books written in genres I don’t read (fantasy, sci fi, etc.) and, second, I worry about having to write an uncomplimentary review of a book that has been offered. However, when I was asked if I would like to read The Abundance, I was interested. I’m always interested in novels that deal with assimilation into American culture, and I especially like books whose main characters come from India, a place that fascinates me, but which I never wish to visit (too many people, too much poverty – I’m not an intrepid traveler).
The blurb promised, “The Abundance is a luminous, bittersweet novel of India and the American Midwest, immigrants and their first-generation children, and the power of cooking that bridges the gulf between them.” It sounded like something I would be interested in, and I happily accepted the offer.
Two things happened which may somewhat influence my review, and I want to be completely transparent about this:
- Due to my own technological ineptitude, there was a delay in my receiving a digital copy of the book. The publisher kindly mailed a hard copy to me.
- During the brief delay while I waited to receive the book, I read Kent Haruf’s new novel, Benediction.
Why would this influence my review? Both novels are end-of-life stories in which the main character is diagnosed with, and then succumbs to, cancer. Both take the reader through the process of dealing with the diagnosis and, subsequently, reviewing their lives and relationships. In other words, these are similar novels in terms of content and emotional weight. They are very different novels in terms of style and form, and it’s difficult to make unbiased comparisons. Please keep this is mind as you read this.
The Abundance focuses on the protagonist’s relationship to her daughter, Mala, which has been strained through most of Mala’s life. When the book opens Mala is a grown woman with children of her own. After learning of her mother’s illness, she and her mother come to terms, and to closeness, as Mala takes on the responsibility of learning the native recipes that her mother makes. Along the way we get a good view of life for middle class immigrants trying to negotiate the terrain between the old ways of their youth and the American practices of their grown children.
On this front, the book didn’t disappoint. This is a family that only suffers cultural chasms, not poverty, ignorance, language barriers, etc., as many new immigrants experience. Majmudar does a fine job of helping us understand what those might be. I appreciated the front row seat into a way of life that is outside my personal experience.
However, for me, the book was “neither fish nor fowl” – in other words, the internal conflict of the mother (who is unnamed, which bothered me) is directed toward her children to the point that we rarely feel her own emotional turmoil. Both the physical and spiritual experience that we would expect to be part of this story are largely glossed over. We never get close enough to the children to truly understand their own conflicts and motivations. As I read, I found myself engaged in the story but always expecting something that was never delivered.
The impact of this book, for me, is synonymous with a fast food meal - my appetite is sated, but not satisfied.
Grade – C