When it comes to reading good books, I seem to be on a roll lately. I finished The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob in record time and stayed up far too late doing it. Initially it reminded me of Em and The Big Hoom (review) as both books are set in Indian families dealing with what can be broadly termed psychological complexities, but within a hundred pages Jacob’s book stood apart with its own set of well wrought characters.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide is the story of an Indo-American family living in a state of restlessness in New Mexico, told from daughter Amina’s point of view. The focal points of the novel are a disastrous family trip to India in Amina’s early childhood, her relationship with her brother in high school and Amina’s present situation as her mother calls her home to help deal with her addled father. Each of these focal points is highlighted by different neurological afflictions in primary male characters.
Jacob has drawn a complex narrative with colorful characters that avoids being convoluted. She balances serious issues and heartbreaking outcomes with the right amount of levity brought by fledgling romance. Many authors wouldn’t get this balance quite right, making their efforts at seriousness seem too heavy handed and the love stories trite, but Jacob weaves these elements together in a way that seems effortless.
Who would like this book? The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a very visual novel. Amina, the narrator, is a photographer and as such often presents the world around her in snapshots. This is a narrative technique that serves Jacob well. I think it would make a great book club pick as it deals with various issues ranging from the immigrant experience and arranged marriage to neurological disorders and the value of art. Jacob also plays with the dual notion of Indian-ness (ie/ Indians as the original inhabitants of America and those more recent immigrants from India) and what it means to be an Indian in America. Overall, I recommend this book very highly as a book that is compelling enough to keep you reading past your bedtime and with enough substance to keep you thinking about it throughout the day.
As an aside, Jacob’s website for the book is also beautiful and suffuse with meaning if you’ve read the book. It is well worth the look.
I requested a copy of the book from the publisher for review consideration.