America for Beginners: A Novel (Hardcover)
August 2018 Indie Next List
“A poignant story that confronts cultural, racial, and gender stereotypes through three people who end up on a trip across the U.S. The story revolves around a Bengali widow of means whose gay son was disowned; a young Bangladeshi man who has a job as a tour agent; and a young, white American woman who aspires to be an actress. These three are united in the journey initiated by the widow to tour the U.S., but really to find her son and confront his lover. Courage to face the unknown — whether it is a foreign country or questioning a previously held conviction — shapes the story and shows that we all have the potential to grow and change.”
— Susan Bush, Island Bound Bookstore, Block Island, RI
Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.
Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkata to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.
Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be?
Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.
A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.
About the Author
Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS is her first novel.
“I loved this beautiful, deeply human tale. Exquisitely written with humor and tenderness, this novel is a perceptive exploration of prejudice, cultural differences, the American dream, and ultimately, the kindness and love that binds us all—a timely reminder of life’s profound possibilities when we open our hearts. This is one magnificent read!”
— Amita Trasi, bestselling author of The Color of Our Sky
“Compassionate and funny, America For Beginners delves into the complications of family as three unlikely companions venture across a country that challenges their understanding of themselves. A charming debut by a fresh new voice.”
— Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers
“A tender, funny, wrenching, beautifully executed tale of three lost souls who traverse the chasms of cultural, generational, and geographical divides to forge some bonds strong and true enough to withstand life’s gut punches.”
— Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Franqui deftly juggles her characters’ competing perspectives, mining small moments in the narrative for larger insights into cultural and personal differences… This is a humorous and heartfelt excursion into the promise that America represents, to both natives and immigrants, and an emotional examination of what that promise means in practice
“A heartfelt novel about forgiveness and acceptance.”
— Real Simple
“A satisfying, heartfelt novel… Franqui adroitly balances all the characters, making them distinct and refreshing. Readers will be taken by this emotionally rewarding novel.”
— Publisher’s Weekly
“Complex and well-drawn characters… America for Beginners has something—or someone—for everyone.”
— Washington Times
“Compelling… a strong contemporary story about cross-cultural alliances, the bonds of family and what it means to ‘learn America.’”
— USA Today
“It’s everything you would want it to be: funny, heartwarming, sad and illuminating … America for Beginners is absorbing and alive and will make you laugh, cry and think about what it means to belong.”
— Amazon Book Review