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Book Review Beginnings

by Sarah Blan on 2019-10-25T14:59:00-05:00 in English Language and Literature | 0 Comments

You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

I heard a review of this book on a podcast I listen to weekly, and I immediately knew I wanted to read it. The problem is that I have this endless list of books I immediately know I want to read. Needless to say, I wasn’t truly committed to reading it right away. I pulled it off the library shelf, opened it up to read the first page or so (just to get a taste of the book), and was pleasantly surprised to find this poem there. Written by Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore: 
Thou hast made me known to friends whom I knew not. 
Thou hast given me seats in homes not my own. 
Thou hast brought the distant near and made a brother of the stranger.
 I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; 
I forgot that there abides the old in the new, 
and that there also thou abidest. ~from “Poems”
I was hooked! What a beautiful expression of how the distant is brought near, and what a perfect beginning to a story about five Bengali women making their way in American while holding onto their Indian culture. Starting in 1973 and ending in 2006, this three-generation story is told in a back and forth style between two sisters and their respective daughters. Mitali Perkins has written twelve novels for young readers and speaks at conferences to discuss “books between cultures and the life-changing power of story.” I think you’ll find that power in this story. 
“Five girls. Three generations. One great American love story. You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture--for better or worse. Ranee, worried that her children are losing their Indian culture; Sonia, wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair; Tara, seeking the limelight to hide her true self; Shanti, desperately trying to make peace in the family; Anna, fighting to preserve her Bengali identity--award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.
‘Perkins tells a nuanced, quintessentially American story. She affectionately traces four young women's interrelated yet distinct paths to determining their identities, and, later in the book, adds a fifth. Ranee, the Das family matriarch, has long lived according to Bengali tradition. In her 60s, she embarks on a process of discovery familiar to many immigrants who move to this country as adults: She reshapes herself from the blended clay of her native and adopted homes.’” -- Chicago Tribune

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