SINGAPORE - Book Review.
THE ABUNDANCE by Amit Majmudar
Oneworld/ Paperback/258 pages/$16.95 before GST/Major bookstores/ 3.5 Stars
Though it begins with a sentence of death, The Abundance is full of wry and loving observations on life.
Radiologist-turned-writer Amit Maj- mudar turns his sensitive eye on the generation gap between immigrant parents and their naturalised progeny in his second novel, after the critically acclaimed Partitions (2011), about the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan.
It is a subject the Indian-American is clearly familiar with - one of the central characters is a medical specialist by day, allowed to give free rein to his true love, mathematics, only at night.
But the true protagonist and narrator of the book is the mathematician's wife, who is diagnosed with terminal cancer at the start of the book and refuses to let this news upset the Christmas visits of her children and grandchildren.
She is deliberately left unnamed as if to underline how a woman's personal identity tends to be subsumed in the larger family and unthinkingly ignored by husband and children until her loss is imminent.
The first third of the narrative is pure book-club gold, setting up characters and culture clashes between the generations in the vein of Jhumpa Lahiri's 2003 novel about the Indian-American immigrant experience, The Namesake, or even Amy Tan's 1989 story about immigrant Chinese-American women and their estranged daughters, The Joy Luck Club.
The narrator in The Abundance has much in common with the maternal figures in those two novels, in that she cannot effectively communicate affection for either of her two children.
Her grown daughter Mala reads every remark as a negative comment on her abilities, while son Ronak is taciturn and aloof.
Both children unbend once the truth is out and try to reconnect with their mother and here is where the narrative takes a deliberate and satisfying swerve from the usual.
It has been 24 years since Amy Tan softened the market for such family dramas with The Joy Luck Club, and the parents and children on either side of the generation gap therefore come from different times and less hidebound backgrounds.