Cover image for Immigrant, Montana
Title:
Immigrant, Montana
ISBN:
9780525520757

9780571339600

9780525436676
Personal Author:
Edition:
First Alfred A. Knopf edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.
Physical Description:
304 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
General Note:
Variant title from book jacket.

Originally published in hardcover in India by Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, in 2017.
Contents:
Part I: Jennifer -- Part II: Nina -- Part III: Laura and Francis -- Part IV: Wolf number three -- Part V: Agnes Smedley -- Part VI: Cai Yan -- Part VII: Peter and Maya -- Epilogue -- Author's note.
Summary:
"The author of the widely praised Lunch with a Bigot now gives us a remarkable novel--reminiscent of Teju Cole, W.G. Sebald, John Berger--about a young new immigrant to the U.S. in search of love: across dividing lines between cultures, between sexes, and between the particular desires of one man and the women he comes to love. The young man is Kailash, from India. His new American friends call him Kalashnikov, AK-47, AK. He takes it all in his stride: he wants to fit in--and more than that, to shine. In the narrative of his years at a university in New York, AK describes the joys and disappointments of his immigrant experience; the unfamiliar political and social textures of campus life; the indelible influence of a charismatic professor--also an immigrant, his personal history as dramatic as AK's is decidedly not; the very different natures of the women he loved, and of himself in and out of love with each of them. Telling his own story, AK is both meditative and the embodiment of the enthusiasm of youth in all its idealism and chaotic desires. His wry, vivid perception of the world he's making his own, and the brilliant melding of story and reportage, anecdote and annotation, picture and text, give us a singularly engaging, insightful, and moving novel--one that explores the varieties and vagaries of cultural misunderstanding, but is, as well, an impassioned investigation of love."-- Provided by publisher.
Holds:

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Summary

Summary

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK
ONE OF THE NEW YORKER 'S BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Carrying a single suitcase, Kailash arrives in post-Reagan America from India to attend graduate school. As he begins to settle into American existence, Kailash comes under the indelible influence of a charismatic professor, and also finds his life reshaped by a series of very different women with whom he recklessly falls in and out of love.

Looking back on the formative period of his youth, Kailash's wry, vivid perception of the world he is in, but never quite of, unfurls in a brilliant melding of anecdote and annotation, picture and text. Building a case for himself, both as a good man in spite of his flaws and as an American in defiance of his place of birth, Kailash weaves a story that is at its core an incandescent investigation of love--despite, beyond, and across dividing lines.


Author Notes

AMITAVA KUMAR is a writer and journalist. He was born in Ara, and grew up in the nearby town of Patna, famous for its corruption, crushing poverty, and delicious mangoes. Kumar is the author of several books of nonfiction and a novel. He lives in Poughkeepsie, in upstate New York, where he is Helen D. Lockwood Professor of English at Vassar College. In 2016, Amitava Kumar was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (General Nonfiction) as well as a Ford Fellowship in Literature from United States Artists.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

The plot of Kumar's droll and exhilarating second novel (following Nobody Does the Right Thing) may feel familiar at first, but this coming-of-age-in-the-city story is bolstered by the author's captivating prose, which keeps it consistently surprising and hilarious. Indian immigrant Kailash arrives in New York in 1990 wide-eyed but also wry, self-aware, and intellectually thirsty. Kailash lives uptown and attends college, and soon has his first sexual experience, with the socially conscious Jennifer, a coworker at the bookstore where he works, who brings him hummus and takes him ice skating. After he and Jennifer break up, he begins to date the mischievous Nina, followed by a series of other young women; the novel's seven parts are titled after Kailash's romantic partners, his formal education intertwined with his personal education. Nina takes Kailash to Montana, where his memories of lovemaking are tangled with snippets of Victor Hugo, Wittgenstein, and the history of British colonialism in India. After several peregrinations, explorations, and women, Kailash lands back in Manhattan with a similarly academically curious woman named Cai Yan, who is also from India. Ultimately, his journey is more intellectual than physical, and the book includes a plethora of lively literary and cultural references in footnotes, sidebars, and illustrations. This novel is an inventive delight, perfectly pitched to omnivorous readers. 50,000-copy announced first printing. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

Kailash, also known as AK-47, is a graduate student from India in the early 1990s, wide-eyed and ready for an education in the ways of the West. Early on, it becomes apparent that he is insecure and inexperienced in the art of romance, a problem compounded by his alienation: I was overcome by a feeling that took root then and has never left me, the feeling that in this land that was someone else's country, I did not have a place to stand. Kumar (Lunch with a Bigot, 2015) effectively traces Kailash's gradual evolution from a sex-starved Beavis and Butt-Head-like persona who uses and hurts women at will to a more mature man who contrasts his current circumstances with his past and his roots. No one in my family had married outside our caste. Love was the province ruled by kids with cars and membership to clubs. Though a bit disjointed, interspersed, as it is, with musings about historical figures and insights into colonialism, Kumar's immigrant tale is nonetheless arresting.--Apte, Poornima Copyright 2010 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

IN HIS CONSISTENTLY entertaining new book, "Immigrant, Montana," Amitava Kumar, an Indian-born writer and scholar, recalls the youthful romantic adventures of Kailash, an Indian-born writer and scholar. The fuzzy distinctions between the author's life and that of his fictional protagonist are multiple and intentional. "This is a work of fiction as well as nonfiction," Kumar explains in an author's note, "an in-between novel by an in-between writer." The relationship between fact and fiction provides an animating tension throughout Kailash's recollection of his salad days. While pursuing graduate study at a university that sounds a lot like Columbia, he researched the life and career of Agnes Smedley, a real-life American writer, best known for her book "Daughter of Earth." Kailash describes it as "neither a memoir nor simply a novel. And when I read it, I thought Smedley offered us a model for writing." He found a similar example in a charismatic professor named Ehsaan Ali. "From Ehsaan we wanted narrative," Kailash recalls. "We didn't always care how much of it was nonfiction or fiction. Ehsaan lived - and narrated - his life along the blurry Line of Control between the two genres." Kailash navigates those same categories from the vantage point of middle age, looking back on events that happened more than two decades before. He organizes his remembrances according to the women with whom he was involved at the time. These include Jennifer, an older grad school dropout; Nina, the enigmatic center of Kailash's memories and perhaps of the novel; and Cai Yan, a "slim and elegant" grad student from China. He stumbled through these affairs of the heart while also weathering the complications of immigration and the ineluctable tug of home. "It was easier to keep the worlds apart," he says, "even if doing so meant seeing myself as split or divided. I was already learning that I was moving away from my parents; their world now seemed so different from mine." Kumar faces up to the consequences of this fissure, punctuating his protagonist's story with memories of his childhood and trips home as an adult. At one point he confesses: "I felt stranded in language. I had become a translated man, no longer able to connect with my own past." He interrupts his testimony, as it were, with appeals to an imaginary white judge, referred to as Your Honor. In one such exchange, he explains to the unseen jurist: "This is the juncture where I wish to note, once and for all, that the plot of history advances through the acts of lovers. Oh, the wisdom of love. The superiority of love and its many follies." While the best of his asides to the bench can be quite witty, they sometimes come off as unnecessary digressions in an otherwise easefully flowing narrative. In his memories, Kailash's eager exploration of love's splendors and pitfalls took place amid considerable political and intellectual commotion. His grad student cohort talked about mobilizing against war in the Persian Gulf. Wine-fueled parties and bull sessions abounded with talk of Gramsci, Chomsky and Stuart Hall. When he finally completed his master's thesis, Kailash realized what he really wanted to write about was love. Readers will be neither surprised nor displeased by this epiphany, since Kailash has managed to do so all along, with considerable wit to boot. "I have always wanted to be in love," he says, looking back. "All I have managed to do is tell a story." We should all accomplish so much. JABARI ASIM directs the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Emerson College. His latest book, "We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies and the Art of Survival," will be published in October.


Library Journal Review

Blurring the line between fiction and nonfiction, this second novel from Vassar English professor/journalist Kumar (after Husband of a Fanatic) is a hybrid text (partly autobiographical) that moves seamlessly between 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. VERDICT Cosmopolitan readers interested in -multicultural literary fiction-à la Kiran Desai, Ha Jin, and Hanif -Kureishi-will find affinity in this modern Bildungs-roman of an erudite global citizen. [See Prepub Alert, 1/22/18.]-Terry Hong, -Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Part I Jennifer *** Researchers found that people are attracted to people who are attracted to them. This from a clipping pasted in a notebook kept while writing this book. *** I was a new immigrant, eager to shine, and if self-abuse were to be omitted from the reckoning, pure of body and heart. The letters I sent my parents in India were full of enthusiasm for the marvels of my new life. To those who welcomed me to America, I wanted to say, without even being asked, that E.T. ought to have won the Oscar over Gandhi . I had found the latter insufficiently authentic but more crucially I felt insufficiently authentic myself. Not so much fake as insubstantial. I understood that I needed a suitable narrative to present to the people I was meeting. There was only contempt in my heart for my fellow Indian students who repeated stories about trying to educate ignorant Americans in barber shops who had asked how come they spoke such good English or if they belonged to tribes or grew up among tigers. The nostalgia I had come to treasure was a hypertrophied sense of the past as a place, a place with street signs and a figure atop a staircase that I recognized. This desire had nothing to do with the kinds of claims to civilizational superiority that make men demolish places of worship or want to bomb cities into oblivion. I knew this and yet I was uncertain about my story. I lacked calm self-knowledge. If a woman spoke to me, particularly if she was attractive, I grew excited and talked too much. I'm talking of what happened more than two decades ago; my first years here and my first loves. But the reality of my becoming who I am now, this evolution , as it were, goes back in time to the monkeys that surrounded me as an infant. This is my own, personal Origin of Species . The red-bottomed monkeys of my childhood would leave the branches of the big tamarind tree and peel the oranges left unattended on the balcony of Lotan Mamaji's house. This was in Ara, in eastern India, in the late sixties. A war with Pakistan was over and another loomed in the future. Prime Minister Nehru had been dead only a few years. In the language of the history books, the nation was in turmoil . Lotan Mamaji was my mother's younger brother. A giant of a man, immense and bearded, paan tucked under one dark cheek like a secret that he didn't want to share. One winter morning, while everyone on the balcony sat listening to the radio, following the cricket commentary from Eden Gardens, a monkey stole into Mamaji's room. He climbed on the huge white bed and finding Mamaji's pistol brandished it--they say--at my cousin who was born two months after me and still in her crib. No one moved. Then, turning the pistol around, the primate mind prompting the opposable thumb to grasp the trigger, the monkey blew his brains out. He was a medium-size young male. Bits of flesh, bone, hair, and gray matter had to be cleaned from the pictures of the long-dead family patriarchs hanging on the wall. There were so many lies repeated in the family, so many half secrets, I don't know why I never asked anyone if the monkeystory was true. For a long time, it had been lodged in my mind as a baptismal tale that taught me the nature of fear, or maybe provided a lesson about fate. But then the past lost its authority and the meaning of the story changed. I had by then come out of my teen years. The main questions now were about the fiction of the past, the idea I had of myself as a person, and what it meant for me to become a writer. For so many years, the idea of writing has meant recognizing and even addressing a division in my life: the gap between India, the land of my birth, and the United States, where I arrived as a young adult. If and when I imagine an audience for my writing, it is also a divided one. But the two places are connected, not only by those histories that cultural organizations celebrate through endlessly dull annual gatherings but by millions of individual yearnings, all those stories of consummated or thwarted desire. There are many of my populous tribe who have examined the wonder and the mystery of this condition. Consider the monkeys in Ara, the Rhesus macaques . They were not just visitors to my maternal uncle's home. They have a place in my imagination because they too were unheralded immigrants in America. A few years ago, I read in a newspaper report that the problem Delhi residents were having with monkeys went back to the early years of Indian independence, when thousands from that region were sent to America for scientific purposes. As many as twenty to fifty thousand monkeys were exported each year. A newly independent India was in need of foreign exchange. The Americans needed middle-aged male monkeys for their experiments. The result of the selective trapping, according to a primatologist interviewed for the report, was the disruption of the ecological balance. The disruption took place because the family unit was broken and the monkey groups entered a process of division that the primatologist termed chaotic fission . But let's take a step back from the political and enter the riskier domain of the personal. I want to focus on why monkeys came to mind when I started work on this book. I claim kinship with the monkeys of my childhood because of what I read in a magazine in 2010: Rhesus macaques, who normally are not self-aware, will, following brain surgery, examine their genitals in a mirror. Similar evidence of self-awareness was previously limited to higher primates, dolphins, magpies, and an elephant named Happy ("Findings," Harper's Magazine, December 2010, p. 84). *** In America, the land of the free and home of the brave, it waspossible, figuratively speaking, to discuss genitalia in public.* (Footnote) *Bill Clinton on President Obama's reelection: He's luckier than a dog with two dicks. Of course, Bill Clinton deserves a footnote in any book on love. My writing notebook also has this quote in it: I--but you know, love can mean different things, too, Mr. Bittman. I have--there are a lot of women with whom I have never had any inappropriate conduct who are friends of mine, who will say from time to time, 'I love you.' And I know that they don't mean anything wrong by that. --Bill Clinton, testimony before grand jury (end footnote) I discovered this when I turned on the radio one Tuesday night in my university apartment in Morningside Heights and heard a woman's voice. A foreign accent, except the surprise was that she was talking about sex. She sounded like Henry Kissinger. Her name was Dr. Ruth. Unlike Kissinger, she wanted us to make love, not war. In India, the only public mentions of sex were the advertisements painted on the walls that ran beside the railway tracks. I read the ads when I traveled from Patna to Delhi for college and was filled with anxiety about what awaited me when, at last, I would experience sex. On the brick walls near the tracks, large white letters in Hindi urged you to call a phone number if you suffered from premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction or nightly emissions. A nation of silent sufferers! Men with worried brows holding their heads in their offices during the day and, back at home, lying miserably awake beside quiet and disappointed wives in the dark. But not in America, where Dr. Ruth was talking to you cheerfully on the airwaves. I had no accurate idea of what epiglottis and guttural really meant, but those words vibrated in my mind when I listened to Dr. Ruth. Her voice on the small black radio in the privacy of my room offering advice to the males among her audience. Even if they themselves had already climaxed, they could help their female partners achieve orgasm. --You can just pleasure her. I hadn't heard that word used as a verb before. I also spoke in an accented English; I wondered if Dr. Ruth's usage was correct. --And for women out there, a man wants an orgasm. Big deal! Give him an orgasm, it takes two minutes! Such relief . For more than one reason. There were details about her that I discovered later. Dr. Ruth grew up in an orphanage. Her parents perished at Auschwitz. She was very short but had fought in a war. She was once a guerrilla in the Haganah, and now, in this country, she was famous for talking about masturbation and penises and vaginas on the radio. She was on her third marriage. Listening to Dr. Ruth on the radio that Tuesday night in upper Manhattan I was transported in my mind back to a morning in Delhi earlier that year when we were enjoying three days of spring. The year I left, 1990. My friends were in my room in the college dorm. The daughter of the warden walked past the window on her way to work, her hair still hanging damp on her yellow dupatta. She was a post doc in history and would become a lecturer soon. And then we were running to the end of the corridor to watch the warden's daughter open the little wooden gate on her way to the bus stop. Her prepossessing calm, her very indifference to the existence of gawking others, was an incitement to collective lust. She was soon gone, and still excited but also somewhat let down, the group returned to my small room with its dirty, whitewashed walls. --There is nothing purer than the love for your landlord's daughter, said Bheem. --No, said Santosh, after an appropriate pause. If you are looking for innocence, the purest gangajal, you have to be in love with your teacher's wife. As if to sort out the matter, we looked at Noni, a Sikh from Patiala. He was the only one among us who wasn't a virgin. Noni took off his turban and his long hair fell over his shoulders. --You bastards should stop pretending. The only true love, true first love, is the love for your maidservant. This was duly appreciated. But Noni was not done yet. --She has to be older than you, though not by too much, and while it's not necessary for you to have fucked her, it is important that she take your hand in hers and put it on her breast. There was the usual silence that greets the utterance of grand truth. Three of us were sprawled next to each other on the bed, our heads pillowed against the wall. Dark, oily smudges behind us indicated where other heads had pressed in the past. Then, someone started laughing. --You are a bunch of pussies, Noni said, to dismiss the laughing. When you went back home during the winter, did any one of you get laid? He smiled and announced his own success with another question. --Has anyone slept with a friend's mother? --I have, Bheem said. He had light-colored eyes. He was smiling a soft, secret smile. --Whose mother? Noni asked. --Yours. Noni was my Dr. Ruth before Dr. Ruth. My naïveté was the price of admission I paid for his tutorials. Noni had discovered that the medical definition of a kiss was the anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction . This made the unfamiliar even more unfamiliar. He told me that the word fuck was an acronym derived from for unlawful carnal knowledge ; this terminology was itself a rewriting, Noni said, of the medieval rule to which fuck owed its origins, fornication under consent of the King . Noni was completely wrong; at that time, however, I marveled at his knowledge of sex. Until I met Noni in Delhi, my familiarity with sex was limited to what I had learned from the censored movies screened on Saturdays in Patna. I'd be sitting with others in the dark, the air warm, the smell of sweat around me, and somewhere a cigarette being smoked. There were probably two hundred others in the theater, almost all men and most of them older than me. In the local paper the theater advertised itself as "air-cooled," but what you breathed was the effluvia of restless groins being shifted in fixed seats that had coir stuffing poking out of torn imitation-leather covers. It was no doubt cooler in the apartment in Prague where the on-screen action was taking place. A middle-aged man had unclasped the hook on the bra that an impossibly young woman was wearing. She turned to face him, her breasts milk white, with pale pink drowsy nipples. There was a cut and a jump in the film there--the duo now in an open car on an empty road, driving under leafy trees, in bright sunlight. -- Scene dikha, baccha ro raha hai , a man shouted from a further seat, wanting us to return to the bedroom. "Show a breast. Because if you don't, the baby will cry." The rough remark, bewildering at that time, soon lost its confusing aspect: glinting like mica in a piece of granite, it sat for a while in the nostalgic narrative about my late teenage years. Excerpted from Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.