Book Review: You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins

Mitali Perkins’ You Bring the Distant Near

“Theater, my Star?” Baba asks. I listen carefully, but there’s no disappointment in his tone, only surprise. “Yes, Baba,” I say. “It’s been an interest of mine. And I think I might be good at it. But Ma—” Baba takes my hand in both of his. “My grandmother used to organize natok in the village for the children—she loved to act. There’s nothing wrong with telling a story onstage. It’s beautiful work; it brings people together. Rabindranath Tagore wrote plays, didn’t he? I’ll handle your mother—don’t worry about that.” ~ Mitali Perkins, You Bring the Distant Near

Author Mitali Perkins’ award-winning novel, You Bring the Distant Near, is a startlingly accurate account of generational struggles within an immigrant family, in this case, one from India. The novel first focuses on the two Das sisters, Tara and Sonia, who chafe against their mother’s strict following of tradition and strive to carve out a new identity and life for themselves in the U.S.. Tara pursues theater, and with the encouragement of her father, begins to excel at her craft, even as she must keep it hidden from her mother. Sonia, who possesses a body both darker and curvier than traditionally acceptable by Indian standards, becomes a stronger feminist in America, recording her insights and transition to American life in a carefully kept journal. The sisters’ struggle to balance the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, creates small rifts within their family, but never so far as to overshadow their love from and for their parents. 

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“Thanks, Ms. Liberty! Is that a sari you’re wearing? I hope not.”

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In the second part of the novel, the Das family expands. Both Sonia and Tara marry and have children, but for Sonia, who marries an African American man, the decision creates a new tension with Ranee, their mother. Sonia’s forbidden biracial love results in difficulty for her daughter, Chantal, who must now balance two contentious grandmothers and identities. Tara, on the other hand, marries an Indian man, with whom she has a daughter named Anna. Anna begins school in America after moving from Mumbai, and Chantal tries her best to ease the transition and connect with her foreign-seeming cousin. As the book progresses, it is clear that despite the five Das womens’ views regarding culture, faith, and tradition, it is love and acceptance that truly brings an immigrant family together. 

You Bring the Distant Near is a must-read for all children of immigrant parents, especially young girls. The prejudices Ranee learns to overcome, Sonia’s unabashedly feminist outlook, Tara’s exploration of creative fields, and the struggles Anna and Chantal face in their schooling are all examples of themes every immigrant family has undoubtedly tackled, and to see them so artfully conveyed makes for nothing short of a beautifully imagined and written novel. Perkins’ integration of Indian food and languages give the book the truly authentic feel that only an ethnic author can communicate. 

The novel is an easy read, perfect for a middle and high school audience, and once again, especially pertinent to the young woman and immigrant child. 

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“Where am I from? Can the answer be stories and words, some of theirs, some of mine?”

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