A review by Ben Antao
To find our voice and place in the sun, we must first get in touch with our roots. This statement applies more to fiction writers than ordinary human beings because writers work with their imagination, a quality of the mind that forces them to dredge into their innermost being to uncover the roots of their buried past. Such a dredging in fictional mode informs The Konkans, a new novel by Tony D’Souza, 33, and Chicago-born and raised second generation offspring of a white American mother and an immigrant father of Konkan roots in India.
The plot of the novel parallels the author’s own birth circumstances in that Francisco D’Sai, the narrator, tells the story of how his mother Denise met his father Lawrence during her stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Konkan region.
The narrative moves at a steady pace, now and then running swiftly as in this scene involving Francisco’s two uncles, Les and Sam, recent immigrants, who, having decided to celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier with dukrajemas pork curry, have bought a live pig in the southside of Chicago and stowed it in the trunk of their car, which they have parked in the shopping lot while they go in the supermarket to buy spices.
Here’s how D’Souza describes the scene:
“Even from the doorway, my uncles could sense that something wrong was happening, and they stopped with their paper bags in their arms to take it in. People were streaming past them and out of the store, stock boys in their aprons, the women they had looked at, the checkout girls in their striped uniforms, shoppers from all around. What did my uncles have left to do but step forward slowly, as though in a dream, toward the flashing lights of the police cruiser, toward the gathering crowd, toward the place where this new thing was happening.
“Women held their hands to their mouths, men looked on with knitted brows. Cars on the street slowed in a line as their drivers gaped. And because they knew all of this belonged to them, my uncles moved forward like sleepwalkers. The crowd parted for them, each new set of eyes fell on them in their slow march. Then they heard the squealing of the pig exactly as all those other people did: as a human being, a woman, screaming to be let out.”
This reviewer at once connected that scene, outrageously hilarious, to similar images he’d seen in the movie Coming to America (1988) starring Eddie Murphy.
When at last the pig is shot in the backyard of the narrator’s house, this episode ends in wrecking the relationship between the uncles and their older brother Lawrence, the first-born son of the first-born Konkan father.
The vignettes of Konkan culture and the American immigrant experience are depicted with affection and feel as if, even when funny at times, they actually happened in the distant past and the immediate present.
However, the story narrated in Francisco’s voice and point of view compels the reader to exercise a willing suspension of disbelief in order to appreciate the backstory emerging from the mouth of baby Francisco. The blurring of first person and third person POV, nevertheless, works like a charm, as D’Souza weaves in and out of the present and the past to create a fiction that mesmerizes the reader to keep on reading.
This novel will appeal both to immigrant readers and the natives interested in understanding what makes the new arrivals tick in the American land.
Finally, if indeed The Konkans is a recreation of the author’s roots by the power of his imagination, it comes across more like fiction than autobiography. Having dredged his past, the author can now rest in peace as far as his roots are concerned.
Published by Harcourt, Inc., New York, the novel (308 pages) is priced $25. ISBN 978-0-15-101519-1 Email: www.tonydsouza.com
Ben Antao, born and raised in Goa on the Konkan coast, lives in Toronto, Canada. He’s a journalist and author of three novels. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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