The Invitation
Anne Cherian
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Buy *The Invitation* by Anne Cherian online

The Invitation
Anne Cherian
W.W. Norton
304 pages
May 2012
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In this thoughtful exploration on the struggle for identity, Cherian follows old UCLA friends Francis, Jay, Lali and Vic. Although they have made new lives for themselves in America, all four are haunted by their Indian culture. Over the years, each has grown complacent and reached a time and place where they cannot help but to be cynical.

Living with her husband, Jay, and her three children--Lily, Sam and Mandy--in the San Fernando Valley, Francis feels the pressure of making ends meet. She's troubled by the endless months of real-estate inactivity, and even the cool, jasmine-scented nights of Sherman Oaks can do little to temper her indisputable belief that everything on her side is quickly evaporating.

Francis has never gotten used to this ďunexpected life,Ē the side-effect of living in America. She refuses to burden her children and is worried about Mandyís deteriorating grades, an issue that Jay refuses to take responsibility for. A prodigal son born into wealth and privilege, Jay is still tied to his Indian roots, customs and rituals. He refuses to acknowledge the reality of his situation in this "land of plenty" where you "don't have to fight for a place on the bus or fight to get a good job."

Vicís party invitation--bright yellow and embossed on a red background held together with gold thread--augurs a gathering held to celebrate his son Nikhilís grand achievement, his graduation from MIT.  Francis, Jay, Lali, and Laliís husband, Jonathan, tumble back into the fold of Vicís life. Francis is happy for Vic and especially for Nikhilís achievements, but she her insides whirl with resentment that she will never be able to send out such a triumphant card for her eldest daughter.

In San Francisco, Lali is beleaguered by self-doubt but also a little flattered and confused by Vicís invitation. Her husband, Jonathan, is a busy cardiologist. With her son Aaron starting his freshman year at Harvard, Lali sees the unexpected invitation as the perfect opportunity the reflect on the early years of her marriage. While Jonathan is amused that his wife is still in contact with her old UCLA group, he reacts with surprise when she tells him that Jay actually married Francis.

In the midst of party preparations, the novelís point of view subtly shifts. The internal monologues of each character allow Cherian to present vivid images of Francis, Lali, Jay, and Vicís early struggles in India and later in America. Lali is of the opinion that Jonathan will never understand what it means to be Indian, while Francis--fearing ridicule--promises Jay not to mention Mandyís terrible grades. Complicating matters is Nikhilís shocking revelation that he wants to attend cooking school, a decision which causes a giant chasm between him and volatile Vic, who accuses Priya, his wife, of turning their son into a sissy.

Surrounded by a relentless drumbeat, each individual is stifled by their Indian customs and their expectations of class, and Cherian captures the very essence of their culture. The story is most effective at the party when the tension between Vic and Nikhil turns into a dark vortex of ego and rejection, exposing even more secrets in a complex combination of anger, humor and suffocating humility.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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