10 February 2012

Imprint Friday: Quarantine by Rahul Mehta

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Late last summer I began to read reviews and hear buzz about Rahul Mehta's short story collection Quarantine. The characters in these stories are interesting because they are Indian-American gay men who find themselves on the fringes of society . . . and not solely because of their sexual orientation.

Here is the publisher's summary:

With buoyant humor and incisive, cunning prose, Rahul Mehta sets off into uncharted literary territory. The characters in Quarantine—openly gay Indian-American men—are Westernized in some ways, with cosmopolitan views on friendship and sex, while struggling to maintain relationships with their families and cultural traditions. Grappling with the issues that concern all gay men—social acceptance, the right to pursue happiness, and the heavy toll of listening to their hearts and bodies—they confront an elder generation's attachment to old-country ways. Estranged from their cultural in-group and still set apart from larger society, the young men in these lyrical, provocative, emotionally wrenching, yet frequently funny stories find themselves quarantined.
In the nine stories in this collection, Mehta explores the lives of second-generation immigrants who are dealing with many issues that make them feel apart. Although homosexuality is the obvious force that pushes these men to the margins, their relationships with their parents and grandparents, their life in limbo between two cultural worlds, and their struggles with relationships have nothing to do with their sexuality. Thus these stories of realistically flawed characters touch on universal themes, giving almost every reader a connection point.

The sparse yet moving prose pulls the reader through the stories, many of which are set in two continents. I was particularly taken with Mehta's skills at developing contrasts—between cultures:
Listening to my relatives' hushed conversations, I wondered whether there was, in their language, a word for homosexuality. I doubted it. I doubted, even, that the English word was used. For them, the concept was unspeakable. (p. 83)
and between generations:
Bipin had never told his son this story. There was so much he'd never said. He'd never told him how many days he'd cried in Oklahoma; or how scared he was, when he brought Meenakshi to American, that he would disappoint her or fail her somehow; or how much he'd struggled. What Bipin did tell his son about his early life in America is what he thought he needed to know: that he had come with nothing and that it hadn't been easy, but he had worked hard and now here they all were. When Sanj asked his father why he came to America, Bipin answered, "For a better life," which was, in Bipin's estimation, what they now had. As for the details of what he'd been through, why would his son want to know? Bipin barely wanted to know himself. (p. 201)
Other passages are more beautiful, emotional, and sexual but the two extracts I've shared show Mehta's style without spoiling any of the stories.

You do not have to be male, Indian-American, or gay to appreciate this collection. As I mentioned, some of the connecting themes in Quarantine are the double pull of personal desire and family obligation, sexuality, love, immigration, and modern life in conflict with cultural traditions.

Here are some other opinions (click on the links for the full reviews):
  • V. Jo Hsu writing at Fiction Writers Review: "Mehta’s simple yet striking imagery becomes most effective in "The Cure" and "What We Mean." Situated in the middle of the book, the stories . . . showcase his mastery of language."
  • S. Krishna writing at S. Krishna's Books: "Mehta’s ability to convey so much emotion and compassion with just a few words left me speechless. I couldn’t believe how nuanced each of these stories were, nor how absolutely complete they seemed, even though they were just a short few pages each."
  • Christina writing at The Blue Bookcase: "Rahul Mehta writes these vibrant, incredibly varied characters who each have heartbreakingly real stories to tell. And the issues they deal with in their romantic and platonic and familial relationships are universal."
For more on Rahul Mehta, see a short video interview with him, available on YouTube.

Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.

Quarantine at an Indie
Quarantine at Powell's
Quarantine at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN-13: 9780062020451


Daryl 2/10/12, 7:57 AM  

Sounds like an interesting read .. adding it to the list

bermudaonion 2/10/12, 9:02 AM  

That sounds like a powerful collection. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to grow up feeling like you didn't quite fit in.

guest post blog 2/10/12, 9:55 AM  

Sounds really interesting..

Zibilee 2/10/12, 10:29 AM  

I have been reading quite a lot about this book, and think it sounds fantastic but also sad and moving. I know that in different cultures, homosexuality can be a huge stigma, and in some places it can even get you killed. So sad. This issue really touches me, and I would love to read this at some point.

Unknown 2/10/12, 3:43 PM  

Wonderful review. I doubt I would have heard of this book otherwise but it sounds good and the pieces you included were good.

Kailana 2/10/12, 5:35 PM  

Sounds good! Thanks for a great review. :)

chrisa511 2/10/12, 10:08 PM  

Oh I've been dying to read this book!! Thanks for this most excellent review Beth :D

Unknown 2/10/12, 11:06 PM  

This book sounds so good but bitter sweet. One of my daughters is gay, and it's hard enough with parents that love her. Society can be so cruel. I'll be adding this one to my list.

Athira 2/12/12, 7:13 PM  

I read a review of this book last year and have been meaning to read it ever since. Nice review!

Julie P. 2/13/12, 7:30 PM  

I bet this book is so powerful.

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