Saturday, August 28, 2010

American Brat - Introduction to the Novel

Feroza Ginwalla, a pampered, protected 16-year-old Pakistani girl, is sent to America by her parents, who are alarmed by the fundamentalism overtaking Pakistan — and their daughter. Hoping that a few months with her uncle, an MIT grad student, will soften the girl’s rigid thinking, they get more than they bargained for: Feroza, enthralled by American culture and her new freedom, insists on staying.
A bargain is struck, allowing Feroza to attend college with the understanding that she will return home and marry well. As a student in a small western town, Feroza’s perceptions of America, her homeland, and herself begin to alter. When she falls in love with and wants to marry a Jewish American, her family is aghast. Feroza realizes just how far she has come — and wonders how much further she can go. This delightful coming-of-age novel is both remarkably funny and a remarkably acute portrayal of America as seen through the eyes of a perceptive young immigrant.
Bapsi Sidhwa's fourth novel, An American Brat is about Feroza Ginwalla, a descendant of the Junglewalla clan portrayed in her previous novel The Crow Eaters. But whereas the latter is a comic romp chronicling the rags-to-riches life of Faredoon Junglewalla and his family in pre-partition Pakistan, An American Brat is a coming-of-age story, a sensitive portrait of how modern America appears to a new arrival -- and an exploration of the impact it has on her. Feroza, a 16-year-old Parsi from Lahore, is shipped off to the United States to counteract the effects of an increasingly intolerant Islam in late 1970's Pakistan. She stays with her uncle Manek, a graduate student at M.I.T. who, although only six years her senior, is a crafty veteran in the ways of America. It is mainly because of him that her planned three-month visit turns into a four-year stay. While attending college in Denver, Feroza falls in love with a Jewish student. After hearing that they intend to marry, her mother sets out for America hellbent on changing her mind. The battles fought by mother, daughter and boyfriend are handled deftly, illuminating the difficulties that arise when culture takes a back seat to the search for self-definition. Ms. Sidhwa's writing is brisk and funny, her characters painted so vividly you can almost hear them bickering.

What happens when an impetuous sixteen year-old Pakistani girl leaves her homeland and wealthy family to encounter America? In An American Brat, novelist Bapsi Sidhwa lets lively teenager Feroza Ginwalla tell her own story and along the way explores the vagaries of two vastly different cultures.
In an effort to reverse Feroza's conservative views, which have been nurtured by Pakistan's rising tide of fundamentalism, her parents send her to visit her uncle Manek in America. Manek is a graduate student at MIT, recently arrived from Pakistan himself. Her parents' ploy works only too well, as Feroza embraces American culture. She enrolls in a university and plans to marry until family influence and differences in tradition erode that relationship. In this issue, we feature an excerpt showing Feroza on her arrival, with flashbacks to her life in Pakistan.
       
Sidhwa examines two ways of life in Feroza's story, particularly contrasting freedom with responsibility. Underlying themes are the workings of family and the role of women in society. Two commentators, Pakistani scholar Fawzia Afzal-Khan and author Edward Hower, explore by analysis and interview Sidhwa's values and influence.
       
Sidhwa grew up and was educated in
Lahore, Pakistan. She has taught at Columbia, Rice, and the University of Texas. Her previous novels include The Crow Eaters, The Bride, and Cracking India.. A social activist among Asian women, she represented Pakistan at the Asian Women's Congress in 1975.

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