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July 02, 2008

Review of Plomin's Home Before the Monsoon

Another story about diasporic Indians, another economic migrant to the USA, another comparison of East and West; there is nothing terribly wrong about Kali Plomin’s debut novel, but neither is there anything particularly great about it either. Nothing much which has not already been extensively explored in this genre, nothing new, not even a new perspective or a new distinctive writing voice.

Home Before the Monsoon features a young Indian man called Vijay, as its protagonist. Vijay came from India to Chicago 4 years ago to help his uncle in the running of a business. He lives with his aunt and uncle and 2 younger cousins, and this novel is essentially about the circumstances of his life and the folk who people it. Plomin’s novel emphasizes the centrality of family life for the Indian American community, and comes with a cast of easily recognizable characters, if somewhat typical and expected ones. The varied and sometimes conflicting influences on Vijay, the pulls in several different directions based on his cultural background and American environment, the tug of war between individual fulfillment and duty to family and/or society are effectively presented, but mostly in a rather low-key manner.

Although this novel is thankfully free of villains and tyrannical elders, it is also unfortunately free from literary intensity, structural interest, depth of authorial or reader engagement. It is an easy read, but unremarkable. The language in particular falls very short, being flat, prosaic, mostly correct and straightforward, but lacking in natural writing grace. There is no suspense, no build up, no climatic point, no point of focus in fact; the novel simply unrolls in a linear and fairly mundane manner. While it is pleasing to have a narrative free from overdone histrionics and sensationalized exoticas, it is not quite so pleasing to have a novel which is verging on the disengaged.

Plomin observes the ebb and flow of the Indian diasporic community reasonably well, but does not display the ability to depict it or comment upon it with originality or sparkle. It is therefore a novel one is unlikely to regret reading, but it is equally a novel one is unlikely to regret missing.

Posted by Lisa Lau at July 2, 2008 02:41 AM

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Posted by: Anonymous at July 2, 2008 02:41 AM

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