Author: Manju Kapur
Publisher: Random House
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Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant is a portrait of a young woman transplanted from her native land to the harsh environs of Canada be her marriage to an NRI. Their struggles with marriage make up the plot
Canada, the Great White North, is the home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom are Indian. This influx started with the movement of East Indian and Sikh troops along with the British regiments to claim and settle in North America. Today, more than 5% of the Canadian population is South Asian. Manju Kapur’s The Immigrant is the story of one such woman who gets entwined in the question of her identity and nationality.
Nostalgia, loneliness and longing – these are the main aspects that the novel explores about the main character, Nina. But so does Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. So why is this piece of work different than that of the pioneer? It is because of the undertones. Set in the 1970s, the story shifts the narrative between Nina and Ananda, who marries and brings her to Halifax, Canada, but largely focuses on that of the former.
Nina is a vulnerable and apprehensive being, who struggles with the idea of adjustment in a new land. Attached to her only family, her mother, Nina had passed the Indian standards of what is called a marriageable age, which is the only subject of worry to her mother. However, she is married to an NRI, Ananda, and thus, fulfilling her mother’s ambitious dream. Her wary idea of aloofness is smashed when she enters Canada. Cold, dry and desolated, the sparsely populated city grows over her like cancer, but this is nothing compared to the spine of the story.
Ananda is a successful dentist who left India after his parents’ accident. His sexual problems, particularly pre-ejaculation, cloud his marriage to Nina. Their persistent struggle to find out a solution builds up the main plot.
Though the story is very different and breaks the mould of a categorical Indian female, the very fact that it is set in the 70’s is indigestible. The modern thoughts and extra-marital affairs might be reasonable in view of the educated characters, but not sincere. Had the plot be set in the present times, the story could have been believable. Another abrasive aspect of the book is the Canadian lifestyle. Though it is absolutely understood why Ananda shelved his Indian way of living and adopted the other, Nina’s tandem is not clear. The narrative was much likeable when she struggled to find a balance in the foreign land, but remained an Indian. As she transformed and lost that identity, the beat of the book slowed down too, only to pick up in the last couple of dozen pages.
Edgy and having a real perspective, Manju Kapur pulls off a queer combination of complexities of an immigrant and sexual deprivation and desire, however, with flaws. Nevertheless, the saga is successful in projecting the contours of female sexuality and is able to highlight the blank points of an arranged marriage.