Title: Leaving India: My Family's Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents
Author: Minal Hajratwala
Release Date: March 18, 2009
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Memoir
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
In this book about the Indian diaspora, Minal Hajratwala expertly traces her genealogy on both sides. She goes back generations, beginning with her great-grandparents, and outlines their departure from India to Fiji and South Africa. She follows the lines down, telling the stories of each generation, trying to uncover the meaning of being an immigrant.
As the daughter of Indian immigrants to the United States, I was fascinated by the premise of Minal Hajratwala’s book. She examines the meaning of being an immigrant closely in this book, trying to understand what spurs people to leave a place, and what they leave behind when they do. It’s a fascinating subject that immigrants or children of immigrants can relate to.
I found Hajratwala’s stories of her family interesting and well-told. She does a great job tying together the personal aspects with the overall political situation. From apartheid in South Africa to severe immigration restrictions in the United States, she really captures political sentiment well and expresses it clearly to the reader. The narrative shifts and moves often, focusing on different members of her family in order to tell one overarching story.
While I found the lives of her predecessors interesting, it was really Hajratwala’s own story that captured me. For 50 pages or so at the end of the book, she discusses her life. Teasing at the hands of other children, the anger and frustration that comes with not fitting in – these are feelings that can be understood by almost anyone who understands what it’s like to be a teenager, and they are compounded by the fact that she didn’t live in a racially or culturally diverse area.
But what really held my attention was Hajratwala’s discussion about her sexuality. In college, she began to explore her sexuality fully. I don’t want to say she decided to become a lesbian, but she thought it was an interesting concept, decided to foray into that area, and liked what she found. In the end, she settled on being bisexual. She raises a lot of interesting points, including the fact that sexuality is so repressed in Indian culture that she needed to figure things out on her own terms.
Hajratwala’s struggle to be accepted by her family and to come to terms with herself is really beautifully expressed. In fact, they left me wanting so much more. There’s so much to tell here, I really wish that part of the book had been an entirely separate memoir. Because it’s incorporated into another book, it really doesn’t get delved into. I can only hope that Hajratwala chooses to write another memoir about it.
Leaving India was certainly an interesting book that really captures the immigrant experience. While it definitely left me wanting more, I’m still satisfied with the book as a whole. Hajratwala is a talented author, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.