The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
Probably my brain is showing its advancing age, but I can’t remember the last time I stayed up half the night to finish a book unless I had an impending deadline (procrastinate? me?!). While I started Sleepwalk-ing in daylight stuck in the ears (debut novelist Mira Jacob is also her own very best narrator – going audible is absolutely recommended!), by midnight I couldn’t listen fast enough and ended up finishing – oh so sighfully! – on the page in the wee hours. Even after 500+ pages (or 15+ hours had I stayed aural), I wouldn’t have minded more. Yup, it’s that good.
What else do you need to know about this sprawling story? You’ve got three temporal settings in three locations: 1998 Seattle which flies into Albuquerque; 1979 Salem (in Tamil Nadu, India); and 1982 into 1983 Albuquerque. You’ve got a single narrator, Amina Eapen, who has three major relationships: with her family made up of three members – father, mother, brother; with her unrelated-by-blood cousin, Dimple; and with the love of her life who she doesn’t recognize until decades after they meet. Then you’ve got three major events that define three decades: a disastrous, fraught family reunion that ends with a resounding slap; a family tragedy of haunting proportions; and an unpredictable illness with illuminating results.
The only American-born child of immigrants, Amina grows up in Albuquerque alternatively ignored and needed by her neurosurgeon father Thomas, her born-again mother Kamala, and her platitude-popping, angry older brother Akhil. In adulthood, she becomes a photojournalist, filtering life through a lens rather than becoming too involved. But when a certain image of hers – splashed nationally across front pages – refuses to be contained, Amina retreats inward, eventually re-emerging into the relatively safety of capturing other people’s weddings and celebrations. When her mother unexpectedly calls her home – albeit with circuitous, unreliable concerns about ghostly conversations – Amina reluctantly lands back in Albuquerque, confronting a past she tried so hard to escape.
Words of warning: don’t read on an empty stomach because Kamala seems to be the South Asian chef-of-the-century and Jacob is all about details; don’t start unless you’re willing to forsake the rest of your responsibilities for the next many hours you’ll need to finish. Other than that, you’re on your own – exactly where you’ll want to be so you can get to that final page.
So … what are you waiting for? Go read, already!