The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Published by William Morrow
Anil Patel is the pride and joy of his parents, as he’s the first in his family to attend college and later travels from his village in India to Dallas, Texas to begin his medical residency. When his father dies, Anil has to assume the role of head of household, and from thousands of miles away, his father’s duty as the arbiter of disputes among the people in their village. While Anil attempts to assimilate into American culture, at the same time he is being pulled back into his traditions and values from his Indian culture back home on an almost daily basis, and he must figure out a way to balance the two demands equally, for his family and his future. Meanwhile, Anil’s best friend from childhood, Leena, has an arranged marriage in their village in India and struggles desperately to deal with the demands of her new family. Her new in-laws are nothing like how they advertised themselves to be, and for fear of shaming her parents, she can’t tell them how unbearable her new life is. She eventually finds herself in a desperate situation involving money, abuse, and family honor, and what she ends up being forced to do has a resounding effect on her family and Anil’s.
That summary doesn’t even come close to doing this gorgeous novel justice. These characters, these families, they wound their way around my heart and stayed there for weeks after I finished reading about them. I felt deeply for Anil and Leena, but also for the secondary characters in the novel. Leena’s parents are desperate to secure their daughter’s future, but in their desperation, they will stop at nothing to get what they believe is guaranteed happiness for Leena – even when it literally costs them everything they own. And how things turn out for Leena, despite the lengths her parents go to for her, is absolutely heartbreaking and the exact opposite of what her parents wanted for her. Anil’s family is another cast of characters that just jumps off the page – between his younger brothers, his sister (who is also good friends with Leena), and especially his mother, they each grow and change throughout the book and become different, mostly better versions of themselves. The fact that the author managed to show that growth to the reader, while setting a good chunk of the book in another part of the world (not where these characters are located), is pretty awesome.
There were so many devastating moments throughout this book, but Gowda does an incredible job at never letting the reader fully lose hope. Yes, it’s a heartbreaking and sad novel, but it has so many shining moments of love and happiness throughout that it makes the reader continue to root for the characters and believe, against all odds, that something will eventually work out for them. In addition to that, Gowda’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and I soaked up every single word that was on the page.
The Golden Son is the kind of book I really treasure – it’s layered, complex, has fantastic characters that come to life on the page, a story that captivates, and beautiful writing. I can’t say enough great things about this novel. It will be one of my favorites this year for sure.