The Limits of the World by Jennifer Acker
Sometimes while reading a novel you fall in love with the characters and wish the book would not end and leave you wondering, “what happened next?” This was the case for me with The Limits of the World by Jennifer Acker.
This novel tells the story of a family, East Indian immigrants from Africa, living in the United States. There was not one of them that I did not come to care about. I have always been fascinated by stories about people who have left the country where they were born, to come to a new place looking for opportunity, or peace, and have made it home. These are people who have been displaced, but bring their culture with them – more or less – as they become part of the new world they have chosen, or come to by happenstance.
Many Asians went to British East Africa, originally as labourers to lay the railway. Many stayed on and became successful shopkeepers. But, during times of political unrest many left, most emigrating to Great Britain or the United States. The Chandaria family is divided between those who stayed, and those who left for opportunity in the United States.
The American Chandaria family consists of the father, Premchand, a doctor, his wife Urmila and their son, Sunil. The doctor has a busy medical practice, the mother a shop selling items imported from Africa, and Sunil studying at Harvard.
We soon learn that Urmila is dissatisfied with her life – and her husband and son. Sunil, now 30 years old, is struggling to complete his PhD thesis, while living with his girlfriend. Though he is away from his mother’s watchful eye he is very much conscious of her disapproval.
Before too long, we discover that there is another son, Bimal, raised in Nairobi by Urmila’s sister. Sunil has known this brother as a beloved cousin, but it is not until Bimal is in hospital, seriously injured, and all of the family is together, that the truth is revealed.
It seems that Sunil is most at the heart of this novel. We witness his struggles at Harvard, his love for Amy, his white, American, Jewish girlfriend, and his need for his parent’s love, approval, and acceptance. Amy truly loves Sunil, and they are determined to make their relationship work in spite of the fact that all of the parents wish their children had chosen a partner of their own kind.
As readers, the thoughts of the characters, and the things they do not say to each other are revealed to us. The words we wish they would say - the words that would heal a wound, or express forgiveness or understanding or love. But that is life, reflected in art, and I found this novel very much a story of what love brings to us all – regardless of creed or race. There is tragedy and joy – love and hate – mistakes and reconciliation. A truly wonderful book – The Limits of the World by Jennifer Acker.