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No Other World

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From the author of the prize-winning collection Quarantine, an insightful, compelling debut novel set in rural America and India in the 1980s and `90s, part coming-of-age story about a gay Indian American boy, part family saga about an immigrant family's struggles each to find a sense of belonging, identity, and hope

In a rural community in Western New York, twelve-year-old Kiran Shah, the American-born son of Indian immigrants, longingly observes his prototypically American neighbors, the Bells. He attends school with Kelly Bell, but he’s powerfully drawn—in a way he does not yet understand—to her charismatic father, Chris.

Kiran’s yearnings echo his parents’ bewilderment as they try to adjust to a new world. His father, Nishit Shah, a successful doctor, is haunted by thoughts of the brother he left behind. His mother, Shanti, struggles to accept a life with a man she did not choose—her marriage to Nishit was arranged—and her growing attachment to an American man. Kiran is close to his older sister, Preeti—until an unexpected threat and an unfathomable betrayal drive a wedge between them that will reverberate through their lives.

As he leaves childhood behind, Kiran finds himself perpetually on the outside—as an Indian-American torn between two cultures, and as a gay man in a homophobic society. In the wake of an emotional breakdown, he travels to India, where he forms an intense bond with a teenage hijra, a member of India's ancient transgender community. With her help, Kiran begins to pull together the pieces of his broken past.

Sweeping and emotionally complex, No Other World is a haunting meditation on love, belonging, and forgiveness that explores the line between our responsibilities to our families and to ourselves, the difficult choices we make, and the painful cost of claiming our true selves.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published February 28, 2017

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Rahul Mehta

18 books18 followers

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5 stars
46 (16%)
4 stars
105 (38%)
3 stars
87 (31%)
2 stars
31 (11%)
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5 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,602 reviews2,043 followers
September 6, 2016
This one started as a 4-star but ended up as a 3.5 for me. I love the writing, I love the family, but ultimately it didn't quite gel for me the way I'd hoped. The book is centered on an Indian-American family in a small town in upstate New York. At first, you get a hint of family secrets buried beneath the surface as 12-year-old Kiran cannot stop staring at another family's house. The book has micro flash-forwards, revealing in an aside that this character grows up to be gay and that character dies in the World Trade Center. A few notable times in the Shah family are illuminated, but ultimately the book leaves Kiran largely unexplored, and the small glimpses into the minds of the characters only left me wanting more and feeling unfulfilled. The same goes for Pooja, the "hijra" (a trans woman, and recognized third gender in India) who is introduced early on, abandoned for most of the book, and then comes back at the end leaving more questions than answers about who she is and what her life is like.

Still, it's a beautifully written novel, with a sharp eye on religion, racism, and more. Good companion book to A SLEEPWALKER'S GUIDE TO DANCING.
Profile Image for Janani.
315 reviews72 followers
July 23, 2017

This book started out well for me, Mehta's got a descriptive writing style that reminded me of Rakesh Satyal. Things I liked: The characters are flawed in a way that goes hand-in-hand with the plot. I thought he did a really good job tackling anti-trans bigotry both within and outside of the queer community in the third part of the book. Loved that Shanti was portrayed as a woman that acknowledged her sexuality, which almost never happens for women of color. Things I didn't like: All of the various characters arcs are left abruptly, and I was left wanting to know so much more about all of them, especially Pooja and Kiran. I was also mildly annoyed by the "brown person lusting after white dude" tropes that occurs not once, but twice in the narrative. Overall, it's well-written, and handles subjects of religion, racism, queerness within the context of an immigrant story pretty well.
Profile Image for Greg.
11 reviews2 followers
May 23, 2017
Finally! A gay coming-of-age novel that breaks away from the standard tropes and conventions - in a good way!

The Good:
- Well-rounded, simultaneously flawed & virtuous characters that support the plot throughout the book.
- Descriptive writing style; really great imagery and similes (particularly loved how he compares makeup and clothing to armor).
- Juxtapositions abound in great ways: old world vs. new, religious observers butting heads, 1st generation Americans vs. 2nd gen., immigrant vs. born citizen, tragic death vs. new life, royalty vs. poverty, masculine vs. feminine, etc.
- Symbolism, foreshadowing, and other well-executed literary tools (some probably lost on me as a Westerner).
- Female characters who have a sexuality as opposed to being sexualized!!!
- A substantial focus on third-gender characters, giving them influence on the plot as well.

My only complaint is that I felt, as a reader, the first revealed love triangle stole the thunder from the second, which was also very important. I'd be ok if the first one was it. I was also disappointed that both revolved around the Indian-American family lusting after hometown white dudes, but that could also be a significant part of the immigrant experience I just couldn't relate to.

Read this one if you're looking for some engaging variety in your gay novels!
Profile Image for P..
449 reviews111 followers
September 22, 2021

A very readable tale that almost feels like a Jhumpa Lahiri novel. Though it's supposed to be the story of a family and revolves only around the members of that family, there is a great sense of detachment from the inner lives of these people and their characters feel skin-deep. You can never truly know the people next to you is one of the themes here, and the writer takes it too seriously perhaps and we're left not really knowing any of these characters we spent 300 pages reading about. But it can be an interesting exercise trying to understand how to write about something while not really revealing much about it. Only the character of the mother partially escapes this flaw and I was able to sympathize with her character and understand her motivations at least nebulously. I just did not care about the main(?) protagonist Kiran who is as annoying as some fictional character can get. I constantly wanted to scream at him - w t f is your problem dude? We usually read a lot about parents not loving their kids enough and scarring them for life, but in this case I really felt sorry for his parents who were stuck with this emotionally unavailable man-child who just doesn't seem to be capable to get his life together. The enormous pressure on the children of recent immigrants to succeed might have taken a toll on him but the book is content swimming in the shallow waters of his imagined victimhood (of whatever). I also felt that the book couldn't figure out its identity fully and stumbles between being an American and an NRI novel. The last sections of the book set in India felt random and out of nowhere. The story of Pooja had one brilliant moment where she questions his assumptions about her identity, but it otherwise felt as if a random short story was inserted to liven things up. I realise I'm being really harsh on this book than I intended to. The book was very entertaining despite the flaws and the pages just flew by. If I'm nitpicking so much, it's probably because I cared about it a lot. Rahul Mehta is a great writer and I will definitely check out his other works. If all these flaws were actually intended, then he might have succeeded in verbalising the identity crisis that so plagues people who feel that they belong nowhere.
Profile Image for Doug.
1,981 reviews703 followers
April 9, 2017
Mehta's first novel, after his award-winning short story collection, Quarantine, fulfills the promise of his shorter work. Although it contains some well-worn tropes from both the gay coming of age novel, and the Indian immigrant in America story, there are enough fresh and interesting details to lend it some uniqueness. Some structural and temporal wonkiness (for example, Prabhu is introduced as coming to America due to his grief over his wife dying in childbirth, leading one to believe his son is newly born - only to learn several chapters later that the boy is actually 10 at the time) and an annoying withholding of information so it can be revealed at the most opportune time, prevented this from being a full 5 star read for me. Also, the most intriguing character, the young transgender 'hijra' Pooja, isn't introduced until the final section ... more of her story would have gone a long way towards enhancing the book.
50 reviews
August 18, 2022
Glad I read it buuuuut I enjoyed the first half more than the second
Profile Image for Shweta Keswani.
13 reviews
February 8, 2018
The book is extremely outdated ... indeed it is from another time but then the writing needs to have more depth to it , the characters should have been sharper to at-least make it an interesting read ... first half was manageable but after that it went down at a amazing speed .... The climax ... well there wasn’t worth mentioning. Absolute waste of time .
Profile Image for Sivan.
8 reviews5 followers
March 15, 2017
I wanted to like this book for the plot, but I felt like Mehta's narration spoke too much, gave too much to me. Personally, I don't like the sensation of being spoon-fed; the characters felt overly explained, in a way that made them two-dimensional and unlikeable.
Profile Image for Sidharthan.
249 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2021
3.5 stars if I am being generous!

I am glad that this book exists. It is nice to read Indian queer stories, even if they are by Indian-American writers.

The book is written well and has a solid plot. It has moments of brilliance - I loved the characterization of the mother Shanti, and of Pooja. Both these characters are written well and you empathize with them. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the central character, Kiran.

Kiran comes off as selfish and sort of scattered. We don't really understand what drives him. The narrative being broken up the way it is, perhaps contributed to this effect. You know the consequences of a plot point before you know what actually happens. There are times when this works well, but mostly this sort of puts a damper on things. You expect something huge to happen and the pay off isn't as big often. I feel like a different narrative structure or a more sort of cohesive one could have helped this book a lot.

Everything also feels under-explored even when they aren't. There are key events in Kiran's life and although we get to know about it and understand a little of how it affected him, we don't get into the details. For example, his self-acceptance and coming out and touched upon but we don't know what led to them.

It's a solid read though and I am curious to read more by Mehta!
Profile Image for ActiveUSCitizen.
32 reviews22 followers
August 20, 2018
Kiran’s yearnings echo his parents’ bewilderment as they try to adjust to a new world. His father, Nishit Shah, a successful doctor, is haunted by thoughts of the brother he left behind. His mother, Shanti, struggles to accept a life with a man she did not choose—her marriage to Nishit was arranged—and her growing attachment to an American man. Kiran is close to his older sister, Preeti—until an unexpected threat and an unfathomable betrayal drive a wedge between them that will reverberate through their lives.
Profile Image for Andrew Peters.
Author 15 books102 followers
June 8, 2017
When I read the Lambda Literary Foundation's review, mentioning a gay, Indian protagonist, growing up in Western New York in the 1980s, I think it took me all of thirty seconds to buy it on iTunes. I was a gay kid growing up in WNY (Buffalo) in the 1980s, and I've enjoyed Southeast Asian authors (Shyam Selvadurai). So beyond the literary merits of Mehta's debut novel, the story was a bit of a homecoming for me. The setting rang true from pop/punk/rock references, childhood games ("Smear the Queer"), beef on weck, to hanging out at water towers, and the terrifying homophobia of junior and senior high school.

I also appreciated the complicated portrait of the main character Kiran (he gets the most scene time, and is cited as MC; though it should be noted, this is a story of many rotating narratives). I've certainly read many gay coming of age novels, portraying both the cruelty and self-loathing of gay adolescence, as well as those that explore the intersectionality, double jeopardy, "spoiled identity" of LGBT teens of color. Mehta captures that dilemma, that journey in a brutal, insightful and honest manner that I have not seen before, which I think makes his novel a real accomplishment. I have to include my favorite passage, regarding Kiran's avoidance of his Indian peers in college:

“To someone else, someone like Kiran’s father, Kiran’s actions might have seemed harsh and exclusionary, evidence even of some internalized racism, and they might have been right, though that’s not how Kiran saw it. For him, his actions were self-preservationist, preemptive. The reason Kiran wanted nothing to do with these Indians was because he believed—and he believed this in the deepest place of his heart—that if they knew him, really knew him, they would want nothing to do with him.”

I enjoyed the book, but I was not as enchanted by the narrative structure: many rotating POVs combined with rotating time frames. For me, it left me not understanding and relating fully to some of the characters, as well as feeling like both "past" and "present" weren't fully explored. As an example, and I many be dense here, but a repeated riddle of the story - why is young Kiran staring at a neighbors house every day after school? - remained an enigma for me.

Then, nitpicking: while much of the setting/historical period rang true, I fell out of the story a bit geographically as characters drive from Elmira to Rochester to Corning, as though they are neighboring towns. While it's true that in rural areas, people have to cover a lot of distance in their daily lives, I didn't quite buy it in this case, driving two hours for groceries or to go to the mall?

787 reviews126 followers
August 7, 2017
This book was a mixed-bag. The climax was anti-climatic. More troubling: the colonial mentality, that when there was a choice for a romantic interest, every time a white person was preferable. This occurs in at least 3 instances.

There are a few beautiful passages:

Over the years, Bharat sometimes wondered what his life might have looked like had they immigrated. Now, in Kiran's room, he was collecting clues not only about his American cousin but about his own alternate American self.

Even after the entire wall had been replastered and repainted, Kamala felt sure she could see the faint outline of where the window had been. Kamala's mother might have thought she was filling a hole, but for Kamala she was creating one: a constant reminder of what was once there (even if what had been there was itself a hole to begin with).

The cousins left their mark on the land, their blood in the dirt, their sweat slicking the trunks and branches and boughs of climbed trees. Their histories were inscribed here, the double helixes of the DNA vining up, across, around every bit of land, indelible reminders for Kiran of the glorious World of Cousins in which he'd spent his youth.

Kiran's first glimpse of Bharat was of him on the platform, slumped in such a way that it seemed to Kiran that it was just a matter of time before gravity had its way and made Bharat fully and forever part of the pavement. But when Kiran approached, Bharat's whole body transformed. He rushed toward Kiran, smiling an enormous smile, and took Kiran's hand, took his whole arm, shaking it firmly, almost maniacally. Kiran recognized in Bharat's huge eyes a state Kiran himself knew well: desperation.
Profile Image for cheryl.
401 reviews11 followers
June 10, 2017
This is a story about family, culture, and identity. Kiran is born to a couple who immigrated to America from India in search of the American dream. In some ways, they have it. They are doing fine and living in a nice town in Western NY, but Kiran feels like he doesn't quite belong. He questions how he fits, both in his nation and in his own home. The book also introduces us to the uncle who stayed behind in India and eventually to his son as well, providing the reader different eyes on the story. Although Kiran is the protagonist, we also see stories he doesn't, including his mom's brief affair and his cousin's struggle during his brief visit to the U.S. As Kiran grows and becomes aware of his own identity as a gay man, other questions arise that make the study in identity even broader.

I liked the roundness of the characters here. We see imperfections and secrets and we see how even those who look at ease feel a bit lost. I enjoyed this book, but it didn't stay with me much beyond the last place. I also felt like a few of the storylines...the early mention of one girl's death on 9/11, the key moments in Kiran's trip to India...felt forced into the story like ideas the writer wanted to be sure to get on the page.

This DID feel real at many points and I think it would connect on a deeper level with first-generation Americans and also with those who know what it feels like to be gay in a culture that won't utter the word.

Three and a half stars. Provided to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Pablito.
535 reviews14 followers
October 14, 2019
It is to the author's credit that he is able to keep me interested in the main character, Kiran, despite his self-absorbed, rude, and cowardly (until the end) persona. Mehta does this by embedding Kiran's story in the stories of many other characters, most of them family, all of them also flawed. And by weaving a narrative with threads so fine I had to squint to recall them, at times half a book later.

But the tapestry of the Indian family crossing continents and integrating lives sometimes from page to page skillfully threads the past and the future into a moveable present, hardly a feast. But a tapestry nonetheless, rich for its interweaving, and for the tribute it spans to survival and, ultimately, to family.

When I asked a friend of Indian descent about hijras (some are hermaphrodites, but most are castrated males), he found it "strikingly banal" of an author to put such characters into a novel, as they are only a miniscule novelty in the Indian culture. But in No Other World, they represent another order if not another world, a world that can be as easily transformed by violence as by nature, depending upon the shimmering of your vision.
Profile Image for Megan.
1,090 reviews63 followers
July 18, 2018
A well-written family story, with often interesting slants on those obligatory pieces of family dramas: identity, heritage, secrets, lies, unhappiness, sacrifice, infidelity, and fidelity. Mehta shakes up his characters' stories like a kaleidoscope, with different people and different moments in the past-present-future colliding and creating patterns within single sections, paragraphs, and sometimes sentences. I thought it was a compelling writing style, even if it was sometimes too herky-jerky and sometimes too portentously heavyhanded.

The book's greatest strength is Mehta's ability to let his characters be imperfect and rude and selfish and hurtful and cowardly and still utterly, painfully vulnerable. I was left with an ache after all of it. I wish the ending wasn't so pat and/or generic, because there was a lot of interesting, ambiguous emotional moments along the way, but I definitely also wanted that reassurance that the characters were headed toward something like stability.
Profile Image for Paltia.
633 reviews86 followers
September 10, 2018
An extraordinarily beautiful smile on R. Mehta’s face inside the back cover convinced me to spend my time with his story. I am so glad that I made this choice. Choices we make, and then those decisions made for us where we have no choice plays a key role in No Other World. This book read like there was not a word out of place. The symbolism is just right. The wild mouse who seems to not be able to be caught played against the cuter, harmless pet mouse who ends up a victim; the crows who stand guard to remind us of what we’ve lost turning into cranes; and so much more. Each character has their own model of the world through which their perceptions occasionally mesh with others. The need for touch, gentle, strong, and even coarse also play into the theme of protection and forgiveness. This is a luminous story of people dealing with inevitable loss and questions not easily answered. Each must find their own way and in doing so find a measure of peace along the way. Haunting, poetic and deeply moving.
Profile Image for Sulagna Mondal.
410 reviews
July 15, 2019
Read complete review here http://www.diaryofabookgirl.in/2019/0...

No Other World traces the story of Kiran, a second generation gay Indian-American. Kiran growing up in a homophobic society, to exploring his sexuality, his dynamics with his family and him hitting his teenage angst, the story aptly mirrors the life of a millennial. We get to see how Kiran's life transforms and he evolves into the person he is due to a series of events. His Indian-born immigrant parents, his sister's tragedy, his mother's affair with their neighbour and him exploring his sexuality through someone else's sexual abuse, a broken paternal uncle, the homophobia he faces, everything shapes up Kiran.

I loved how the author shows Kiran's development through the incidents occurring in the lives of people who'd ultimately shape Kiran. In a way the book not only focuses on Kiran, but also the people around him, thus creating multiple character sketches and multiple story arcs that are in their own way either devastating or fulfilling.
1 review
June 8, 2017
I really enjoyed No Other World, Rahul Mehta’s book about the immigrant experience. The book is more than just a rehash of say, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and in many ways is more ambitious in scope. It takes us on a journey both chronologically and geographically to little known worlds that came to life for me. The parts of the book that take us into two of those worlds, immigrant life in a stark, rural area of the U.S. and a fascinating look into the Hijra culture of India were especially emotionally resonant.

Mehta writes with a wonderful eye for the unnoticed details and ironies in life that will have you nodding and smiling. A restaurant server’s dance between providing attention and privacy, windows tucked high against eaves like tired eyes, our safety obsessed society when seen through the lens of another culture that cannot afford that luxury. Impressive debut and looking forward to the next novel.
Profile Image for Gene Turchin.
43 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2017
No Other World, a novel by Rahul Metha is a literary novel, a coming of age novel and a novel about a transplanted Indian family. I don’t know if I can do it justice in a review because it is complex and nuanced. The story is narrated by various characters within the family.

I can only surmise that the conflicting emotions swirling through and around Kiran, his mother, Shanti, his sister and his father must tap a vein in the immigrant experience. Here but not part of the American society and yet caught in the societal movement like being swept away by a raging river.

Kiran’s life is complicated even more when he comes to know that he is gay. His journey takes him to an India he never knew as he searches for his own soul.

The book reminds me, in many ways, of the novels of Herman Hesse and Gunter Grass, steeped in internal musings and angst. I think, the journey of the characters leaves the reader exhausted, Metha takes you that deep inside.
Profile Image for Gordon.
431 reviews
March 20, 2018
Rahul Mehta's newly released debut novel, No Other World centers on Kiran Shah, first generation Indian-American son of Dr. Nishit Shah and his wife, Shanti, who together with his older sister, Preeti, grow up in Western New York state in the early 1980s. Over the course of two decades, Kiran struggles not only with his budding sexuality, but also cultural identity, familial duty, and personal identity. While chapters devoted to Kiran's childhood are shaped by heartbreaking incidents involving his sister as well as his mother, it is the later chapters, when Kiran is trundled off to the motherland that dramatic tensions are at their peak. Ultimately, Kiran's story is one of anguish as well as hope. The story unfolds beautifully. Mehta shapes characters delicately and richly. He explores important themes with great care.
Profile Image for Sharneel.
695 reviews
May 19, 2017
I had to do stops and starts in reading this book. It was a personal and painful experience for me. Having known Rahul since he was about 12, I personalized every word and every line. I kept seeing Rahul as Kiran, even though multiple aspects were totally out of sync. To me it was actually painful to read certain parts.
Still, the tale and the journey were very enlightening. I knew little about true Indian culture. Google helped me better understand some things, and, others were so alien that I just had to accept them and move on.
What a journey! Kiran certainly dealt with enough to haunt many lifetimes. Like the author, his seeing beyond and struggle for definition permeate the tale, giving it meaning far beyond the obvious story.
Profile Image for OK.
247 reviews
July 25, 2019
Another book that I wanted to like more than I did. I first heard Rahul Mehta read out this book's prologue on the Asian American Writer's Workshop podcast, and his reading captivated me. The writing started out strong but lost steam by the 1/3 mark. I found that the narrative was jumpy (too many poorly contextualized fast-forwards and flashbacks), the narrator's voice heavy-handed (at first I found the insertions charming, but they became pointless and irritating), and the plot/climax virtually nonexistent.

I'm glad that these characters exist, and there were a few lovely observations and sentences, but this novel didn't do it for me.

Profile Image for Kathy Dhanda.
268 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2017
Coming of age book by a gay Indian man. Confused by his identity, Karan struggles with the paradox of his traditional culture and his rural upbringing in the US. While the struggle is real, the writing felt rather contrived and abrupt. The introduction of the hijra (hermaphrodite) in the last half felt completely out of place. A brave book, no doubt, dealing with issues of identity, homophobia, and loss of home.
4 reviews
March 11, 2018
Few writers catch the sadness of the human soul like Mehta. His work weaves together the stories of a South Asian family lost in their identities: a young boy tinkering with his sexuality, a Mom torn between her duty and desire, an uncle unsteady by his wife’s death and his brothers distance. What’s the most captivating about this book is how Mehta charges the most mundane moments with tension, like the scene where Nishit cleans his glasses. Well worth a read.
57 reviews
April 6, 2018
This is a lovely book, filled with all kinds of daring and risk-taking. Mehta’s exploration of an Indian family in the United States is universally relatable. He sensitively covers child abuse, queer Indian identity, and the ancient trans population of India— the hijras. It’s beautifully written, and what he captures so well are the ways in which families know all sorts of unspoken truths about each other, and that imperfect love is the only love there is. I’d read it again.
10 reviews
July 12, 2018
What a beautiful and wise book. How heartfelt. Maybe for me it was so special because I'm so crazy about India, because I studied Indian religion, because I know how to say thank you in Hindi and Urdu, because I think one of the saddest events in human history was the 1947 Partition of India.
Maybe because I have always felt like an outsider, a misfit, myself. But this book resonated with me tremendously. If it did not with you, so be it. You're probably lucky that it didn't.
Profile Image for Leonardo Kingston.
8 reviews19 followers
March 26, 2019
From the author of the prize-winning collection Quarantine, an insightful, compelling debut novel set in rural America and India in the 1980s and `90s, part coming-of-age story about a gay Indian American boy, part family saga about an immigrant family's struggles each to find a sense of belonging, identity, and hope
Profile Image for Bill.
352 reviews
May 20, 2017
A thought provoking look at an Indian immigrant family, focused on their American born son as they try to adapt to their new lives in rural New York. The author then shows the struggle from another view as the now older son visits relatives in rural India.
Profile Image for Nicholas.
Author 6 books73 followers
July 24, 2017
Shanti, the mother character, was definitely the highlight of this one for me. At first I thought it was going to be a typical coming-of-age/coming-out novel, but with an Indian American twist. There's definitely more to it than that, but the symbolism could sometimes be a tad heavy-handed.
Profile Image for Kookie.
722 reviews11 followers
January 26, 2018
Complex family drama that touches on the isolation of not only immigration but homosexuality and racism. It has lots of light moments, but Mehta really gets you into the hearts and minds of the people in this family. Really touching.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 51 reviews

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