Welcome to another installment of a collaboration between the Chicago Review of Books and the Your Favorite Book podcast. Malavika Praseed, frequent CHIRB contributor and podcast host, seeks to talk to readers and writers about the books that light a fire inside them. What’s your favorite book and why?
This week’s guest is Sanjena Sathian, author of Gold Diggers. We follow Neil Narayan as he navigates his tumultuous teen years entrenched in the Indian community in suburban Georgia, as he progresses to struggling grad student in the Bay area. The question of ambition looms large in Neil’s life, and his lack of interest in academic and extracurricular excellence set him apart from his peers. His attentions are more focused on his neighbor, Anita. Neil soon learns the secret to Anita’s ambition is a potion brewed from stolen gold. Neil gets involved in gold pilfering, and after tragedy strikes, he must decide whether to return to the practice in his mid-twenties when the stakes are even higher.
Focusing on the idea of the ‘typical’ South Asian novel and her own desire to eschew tradition, Sanjena chose the 1990 novel The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi, a book that rolls its eyes at conventions and expectations. Instead, Kureishi delves us into the wild world of Karim Amir, coming of age in mid 1970s London. Karim, half South Asian and half English, sees his immigrant father transition from mildmannered family man to newly ordained Buddhist guru for unhappy white people. When Karim’s own life takes a turn into an acting career, and the roles he take on call into question his identity, Karim sees the common ground between himself and his father. Ultimately, this is a work of race, society, as well as sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Sanjena waxes poetic on influential works, how the history of South Asian America is more complicated than we think, as well as representation in a burgeoning media market. As always, all episodes are spoiler free, although we believe that a novel like The Buddha of Suburbia may not even have spoilers in the traditional sense.
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Listen to this episode of Your Favorite Book at the link above, and stay tuned for more episodes with other writers in the weeks to come. If you enjoy this episode, check out other episodes of Your Favorite Book on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or other major podcast platforms.
Malavika Praseed is a writer, book reviewer, and genetic counselor. Her fiction has been published in Plain China, Cuckoo Quarterly, Re:Visions, and others. Her podcast, YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and various other platforms