The Immigrant by Manju Kapur
Manju Kapur was born in Amritsar, India. She is an Indian novelist. Her first novel, Difficult Daughters, won the 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, best first book, Europe and South Asia. She teaches English at Delhi University under the name Manjul Kapur Dalmia. She studied and received an M.A. in 1972 from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, and an M. Phil from Delhi University. This novel, The Immigrant published in 2011, draws on life in Canada, although it is a novel, not autobiographical. The Immigrant was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The author is married to Gun Nidhi Dalmia; they have three children and three grandchildren, and live in New Delhi.
The Immigrant was book of the month at my book group. It is not a book that I would automatically have chosen, however, reading out of your comfort zone is part of the joy of being in a book group. The book is about a couple. Nina is a college teacher of 30 in India. Ananda has moved to Canada to get his degree and practise dentistry. When he is sufficiently established that he feels he should have a wife he finds it easier to have his Indian family find one and arrange a marriage than for him to find a Canadian wife on his own. So he brings Nina back and settles her down in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. For years, he had to face the awful loneliness of the recent immigrant, but he does not give any consideration to Nina being bored or lonely: as far as he is concerned, she has him.
The daily lives of the couple are set out for the reader in all their everyday challenges and frustrations. Once Ananda or Andy as he is known in Canada is married, the reader sees him only as he relates to Nina and as he tries to solve his sexual anxieties. This is an interesting reversal of the perception, frequent among male writers, of women as existing only as sexual beings and in relation to men.
The reader does not hear much about Ananda’s dentistry practise, but does learn a lot about Andy’s problem with premature ejaculation. The story of his worries, his secret Berkeley cure, his alarm clocks and, in due course, his triumphs, is related straightforwardly. This is a serious matter, and the author does not jeer or sneer. Still, Andy, in his earnest and exclusive concern for the behaviour of his penis, is very funny. The comedy in The Immigrant is hard to describe. It does not come out in exaggerated wording or an overtly comical scene. It is gently pervasive and deliciously subtle flavour, like that of ginger or coriander and it is used with a light hand. I did not laugh while reading this book, but I smiled often, and I smile remembering The Immigrant. I highly recommend this book.