Saturday, August 28, 2010

An American Brat is an “affecting, amusing, and enjoyable” novel about a young woman's coming of age and the immigrant experience in America: Discuss

Coming of age is never easy. Coming of age as a woman is even harder. But coming of age as a female immigrant in a foreign country may be the most difficult of all. For many women born into societies with restrictive social and political codes, however, immigration may be the only real way to come of age.
In An American Brat, Pakistani-born novelist Bapsi Sidhwa reveals with a humorous yet incisive eye the exhilarating freedom and profound sense of loss that make up the immigrant experience in America. Sidhwa begins her novel in Lahore, Pakistan. Feroza Gunwalla, a 16-year-old Parsee, is mortified by the sight of her mother appearing at her school with her arms uncovered. For Zareen Gunwalla, Feroza's outspoken 40-something mother, it is a chilling moment. The Parsees, a small sect in Pakistan, take great pride in their liberal values, business acumen, and—most importantly—the education of their children. Zareen's family, the Junglewallas—a fictional clan chronicled in Sidhwa's previous two novels, The Crow Eaters and Cracking India—have for generations bred strong-willed, independent women. Zareen knows she must do something to keep her daughter from being further influenced by the morals of the majority Muslim government. But what can a free-thinking Parsee mom do when she sees her daughter becoming “more and more backward”? Send her to America, of course.
Feroza is packed off to visit her Uncle Manek, a student at MIT. But as Zareen waves goodbye to her daughter, she cannot know that in America Feroza will become more independent than Zareen ever dreamt, or hoped, was possible. With Uncle Manek, Feroza quickly sees both the squalor and the beauty that America offers. In New York,
she's repelled by the smells of the city. Yet Feroza sees that, along with the stench, America possesses luxuries and a utilitarian efficiency that are almost magical. In the end, though, it's not material comfort that seduces Feroza into a love affair with America. Nor is it the
stares from handsome young American men. What seduces her is the candor, the unabashed freedom, behind those stares. Wanting to get beyond her own self-consciousness, Feroza decides to prolong her stay. But Manek, fearing “the catastrophe that could take the shape of a good-looking non-Parsee man,” places Feroza in a small, strictly supervised Mormon college in Twin Falls, Idaho. Manek's overly protective plans go haywire, however, in the person of Feroza's American roommate. Jo Miller, as simple in her desires as her name, smokes a lot, drinks liberally, eats compulsively and never stops falling in love. Although Jo, as written by Sidhwa, is a blowzy American cliche, Feroza is impressed with her unrestrained energy. The girls become fast friends, and soon transfer together to the University of Colorado, where Feroza's transition to an American lifestyle is complete. She quickly begins to act, talk and
dress like an American girl. She even falls in love like an American girl, and, copying Jo's impulsiveness, Feroza writes home to Lahore, blithely announcing her intention to marry. She also blithely announces that Peter, her new love, is Jewish. In no time at all, Zareen heads off on her first visit to America, determined to save her daughter from a marriage that, to a Parsee, means nothing less than cultural suicide.
Feroza is moved by the ultimate argument Zareen uses against her marriage to Peter. If a Parsee woman marries outside of her community, she can no longer practice her religion and is no longer considered a Parsee. The same law does not apply to Parsee men. The iniquity rankles Feroza. Married or not, she exclaims indignantly, she has experienced freedom in America and she refuses to live without it now.
Hearing this, Zareen, at last, truly perceives her daughter, not as a wayward child, but as a modern version of herself and the other Junglewalla women who preceded her. Like her female ancestors chronicled in Sidhwa's two previous novels, Feroza is defining herself, breaking away from the strictures of the past without denying her heritage. One only hopes that Feroza's maturation as a woman will make for a journey as affecting,amusing, and enjoyable as her coming-of-age does in An American Brat.

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Anonymous said...

Its David and not Peter and he is not a girl :-D. Also they are Ginwala and not Junglewalas.

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