23 Jul / Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar [in Library Journal]
Blurring the line between fiction and nonfiction, Vassar English professor/journalist Amitava Kumar’s (Husband of a Fanatic) second novel is a hybrid text that moves seamlessly between his partially autobiographically-inspired Indian immigrant graduate student Kailash and numerous real-life figures and events.
Kailash arrived in New York as a graduate student two decades previously, and his transformation from foreigner to citizen is reflected in his very name, adapted to Kalashnikov – an iconic Kumar irony because a Soviet assault weapon is more American than the holy pilgrimage site Kailash’s name suggests – or truncated to the easier AK or just 47. Kumar explicates Kailash’s “in-between” immigrant journey through his loves, his friends, and his mentors.
In what is cleverly presented as a self-defense before an imaginary judge, Kailash recalls and challenges his memories, underscoring both his assimilation and his rebellion. Kumar enhances his shrewd, agile prose with (seemingly) disparate images – think exhibits for the defense, including Dr. Ruth, a Picasso painting, a handwritten John Berger missive, a monkey astronaut – to create an affectingly collaged portrait of a searching young man.
Verdict: Cosmopolitan readers interested in multicultural literary fiction – à la Kiran Desai, Ha Jin, and Hanif Kureishi – will find affinity in this modern Bildungsroman of an erudite global citizen.
Review: modified from “Fiction,” Library Journal, July 1, 2018