By Anne Cherian. Grade B+
When Vikram invited three of his college friends – Frances and Jay, and Lali – to his son’s graduation from MIT, they view the party as a twenty-fifth reunion of sorts and accept out of obligation and curiosity.
They are more reluctant than enthusiastic to meet, however. For, after leaving UCLA with dreams of success and vast ambitions for what their children might achieve, things have not turned out quite as they had imagined.
As their lives are cracked open in the course of an evening, the showmanship they anticipate from each other dissolves, revealing in its stead long suppressed
vulnerabilities and betrayed hopes…
‘The Invitation’ gives us an insight into the modern day lives of Indian immigrants in USA; their expectations, dreams and desires from the ‘Great Immigrant American Life.’ Four individuals- Vic, Lali, Frances and Jay, meet at UCLA in the 1980′s and bond almost immediately as not many Indians were there in the States at that time. They pass out with their respective degrees, but do not remain in much contact with each other. Until twenty five years later when Vic invites them to celebrate his son’s graduation from MIT. They look at it as a reunion of sorts and accept the invitation, mainly out of curiosity about their friend’s lives.
Jay, brought up in a rich Indian household, adapts to the American lifestyle more easily than the others, as he was more western and forward thinking. Frances, a Goan, believed strongly in finding a match for herself. She did not ultimately complete her Ph.D after getting married to Jay, and getting pregnant. She ends up working as a Real Estate agent, and has not managed to sell even a single house in a year due to the declining economy. Meanwhile Jay works as a middle level manager. Neither of them achieved the success they had aspired for, and strive to make ends meet comfortably.
Vikram, hailing from a small Indian village, knew very clearly what he wanted from life. He started his own software company vikRAM Computers, and was an extremely successful businessman.
Lali, who had an unfortunate sexual experience while at UCLA, had decided that there was to be no love in her life. However, after graduating, she met and got married to a Harvard-graduate Cardiologist.
The story has been narrated in three parts: the first describing the lives of the four friends, and their reaction on receiving Vic’s invitation; the second describing their preparation for the party; and the third, the actual party. The entire story was interspersed with events from their past- their days in India, and at UCLA.
I was instantly enthralled by the intertwining lives of the four friends. Their imperfect lives and daily problems; and also their moral conflicts between abiding to their Indian roots and culture, and adapting to the modern ways of America made for a very real read. Anne Cherian has probably drawn instances from her own time at UCLA and incorporated it in the book. The events that were set in India were also very true – from the high expectations of Indian parents from their children, to the nosy neighbours who are forever interested in the problems of others.
On the downside, though, umpteen books have been written on the confused Indian lost in the big America. The characters, too, are a bit stereotypical. Moreover, the ending was too abrupt and vague, and a bit too melodramatic, a lot like a Bollywood movie. However, these are my only complaints from the book. Overall, it was an enjoyable and interesting read.