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America for Beginners

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Recalling contemporary classics such as 'Americanah, Behold the Dreamers', and 'The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao', a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.

Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: She has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then Pival's husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly - heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.

Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company's indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi - a hardworking immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream - it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pavil's guide is the company's new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year - and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty's sake, Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig she's along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be?

Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son - and her hopes of a reunion with him - are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America - and themselves - in different and profound new ways.

A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, 'AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS' illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold and reminds us that our most precious connections aren't always the ones we seek.

RUNNING TIME ➼ 10hrs. and 49mins.

©2018 Leah Franqui (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers

320 pages, ebook

First published July 24, 2018

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Leah Franqui

4 books162 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 973 reviews
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,047 reviews2,058 followers
January 19, 2023
This is the story of a mother who travels to America to find his missing son.

There are a lot of relevant contemporary themes embedded in it.

The topics pertaining to the pressures faced during migration to a different country, difficulties of people belonging to the LGBT community, how conservative families react to coming out, inclusion, racism, and many others are discussed in this book. Even though the topics discussed are very serious ones, the author tries to convey them in a simple and entertaining way in the book.
Profile Image for Thomas.
712 reviews172 followers
August 7, 2018
4 stars
This is a fictional story of Pival Sengupta, a wealthy widow from Kolkata, India. Her husband Ram has been dead for several months and she decides to go to the United States, ostensibly to take a guided tour, but in reality to find out if her gay son Rahi is alive or dead. When he came out to his parents, his father disowned him and forbade him from all future contact. Ram received a phone call shortly after Rahi announced that he was gay. Ram told Pival that Rahi was dead. But she never saw a death certificate, or received his ashes. She has an address in Los Angeles, where he and his partner lived.
She has contracted a 2 week tour with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, which is actually run by Ronnie Munshi, a Bangladesh immigrant. He has assigned a new hire, Satya, also from Bangladesh, as her guide. Pival also demands a female companion, for the sake of propriety.
Ronnie hires Rebecca, an out of work aspiring actor to be the companion.
How these 3 disparate people interact and discover things about each other, and themselves, makes for an interesting read.
One quote on Ronnie's desire to keep secret the Bangladesh connection:
"He would remind Satya to be as Indian as possible when he got a moment alone with him, and reprimand him for this one-hour-early-trick. And, he thought, make it mandatory for all his guides from now on."
Thank you William Morrow for sending me this book through LibraryThing.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,696 reviews14.1k followers
July 19, 2019
Yes!! I made it out of Las Vegas. Kind of an inside joke, with apologies to those who loved The Goldfinch, but I always say when referring to that book that I never made it out of Vegas. That's where I laid that book aside.

Pival from Kolkata is going to America to try to find her son. Told by her husband after her son's sexual orientation was revealed, that he was dead. Now her husband is the one who is dead and Pival, for once is going to find out the truth. Three unlikely characters will find themselves in each other's company, which leads to some comedic moments. Touring the different sites on the travel itenary, allows the reader to visit for the first time or revisit some great sites. Some I had been to, some not.

Along the way they find self confidence, some answers to their different questions, and find out the importance of friendship. The themes of family, prejudice and immigration make this not only an interesting read but a timely one. A debut novel and one well worth reading.

ARC from bookbrowse.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,089 reviews30.1k followers
August 18, 2019
An original and charming story. ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pival Sengupta lives in India, and she is recently widowed. A year prior, her son, Rahi, told his parents he was gay and fled for California. Before he died, Pival’s husband told her that their son had died.

Pival packs her bags and heads to the United States for a cross-country tour to find out about her son. She forges an unlikely friendship with her tour guide, Satya, and Rebecca, the aspiring actress who is accompanying them on the trip for modesty.

In two weeks’ time, they travel across the US from New York to California. Pival, Satya, and Rebecca begin to reflect on America as they travel.

America for Beginners is a warmhearted tale. It is full of hope and forgiveness, and I was enchanted with the story and its characters. The author touches on issues of prejudice and immigration making this a timely read.

Overall, America for Beginners is a beautiful read about friendship. I’m so grateful I read it and am eager to read more from this author.

I received a complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com
Profile Image for Lopa.
306 reviews36 followers
August 15, 2018
When I saw this book featured on Goodreads and read the summary, I thought I would enjoy the book. As I read the first few chapters and realized that one of the main characters is a Hindu Bangladeshi Bengali from Sylhet, like myself, I was even more excited to keep reading. I’ve never read a book that had such a character. Usually a book has a Bangladeshi character, they are Muslim since the country’s population is 90% Muslim. But as I kept reading, it was obvious that the author has no idea about what Bengali means or what relationships are like between a Bangladeshi Bengali and a Bengali from West Bengal in India. I found the way Bangladeshi were portrayed and described (of course they were the “dark skinned” ones) did not follow reality at all. Not to mention the behavior of the two South Asian characters seemed like something straight out of a 1970s Bollywood movie. I think if the author were ever to meet a Bengali from Bangladesh or a widow from Kolkata, she’d be shocked to see how different they are from her preconceived notions of them. I was curious about the ending but once I found out about Rahi, I was done. The book was about 4 chapters longer than it needed to be as well.

If you want a good story to learn about Bengalis, both Bangladesh’s and West Bengal’s, I recommend reading Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies.

I don’t mind people of other cultures writing about my own, but I would hope that when they do, they actually do research and learn about it instead of writing like this.
Profile Image for DJ Sakata.
3,024 reviews1,741 followers
August 2, 2019
Favorite Quotes:

They had raised Rebecca with strong assurances that she could be anything she wanted to be, and then, like so many American parents, were surprised and dismayed when she believed them.

He ate ravenously at every meal, piling on plate after plate of rice and patting his nonexistent stomach after the waiters politely told him, as they had at each place, that he couldn’t have any more of the buffet, because had exceeded what they had imagined “all you can eat" could possibly mean.

“No.” Mrs. Sengupta said it with the gentleness of a falling feather and the finality of a bag of lead.

… Jake’s knowledge of Judaism consisted of jokes made in Woody Allen movies and dishes he at in delis.

My Review:

I was stunned, astounded, and deeply awed to learn that this deftly written and thoughtfully crafted story was the author’s first book. It was superb at its lowest level and beyond divine at its zenith. I was quite taken by Ms. Franqui’s agility in conveying those elusive emotional tones, startling epiphanies, and shifts in thought. Her wry humor was clever and shrewdly placed. I was fully invested in every oddly compelling character and each well-scaffolded storyline, even though their vastly different cultural issues and disparities were completely unfamiliar and foreign to my thinking, their emotional conflicts and feelings of dissatisfaction and discontent were intensely relatable. I was captivated, enthralled, and mesmerized by Ms. Franqui’s cunningly constructed tale and found myself reading slowly to savor and contemplate each nuance. Ms. Franqui has mad skills and a rabid new fangirl.
1 review
March 12, 2018
America for Beginners is an extraordinary debut by Leah Franqui. Once I finished the book, it gave me a tremendous sense of lightness and hope. It is something I wanted from a book for a while as I struggle to find a sense of hope from the world nowadays. After so many authors telling me what is wrong with the world and humanity, it warmed my heart to read something that told what was beautiful about humanity.

In a world where nations and society are constantly looking inwards, America for Beginners shines a bright light on the idea that the borders that divide us are just lines in the sand. Only if we look up and across the line at another human being rather than looking down and staying behind, can we learn to love others which then helps us love ourselves.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,823 reviews501 followers
March 19, 2020
Recently widowed Pival Sengupta is 60 and has never left Kolkata. Her late husband Ram had told her that their son Rahi died in Los Angeles but Pavil never really accepted the news and now she is planning her first trip ever to find out the truth for herself. Rosni (Ronnie) Munshi owns a travel agency in New York that books tours for Indian and Pakistani tourists. He is from Bangladesh, a fact that he tries to hide from his clients. Pavil pays for a two week tour of America and requests both a personal guide and, since she cannot travel alone with a man, a female companion. Ronnie assigns the inexperienced Satya Roy to be Pavil's guide and manages to find an American actress, Rebecca Elliot, to act as companion. The book covers their tour through Manhattan, Niagara Falls, the Corning Museum of Glass, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and finally Los Angeles. There are also chapters describing Rahi's life as a student in America. It is not the life his parents had anticipated.

Rebecca is an employee but doesn't view herself as Pavil's servant and freely expresses her opinions and asks questions in a way that is foreign to Pavil and Satya. "Satya, however, seemed to view women as an alien species. Would he last two weeks traveling with two such creatures? He would have to." Pavil had been dominated by Ram and intimidated by their judgmental servants who were not on her side. Now on tour "She felt a surge of love and gratitude for Ram. After all, he had had the kindness to die." Over the course of the two weeks, Pavil, Satya and Rebecca face their own insecurities, misconceptions and prejudices. They share lots of bad Indian food and a few good tacos as they slowly get to know each other and Pavil learns to assert herself in ways she could not have imagined.

I found all of the characters completely believable and charming. I would love to know what happens to Pavil, Satya, Rebecca and Ronnie after the book ends. The book was insightful, amusing, touching and really delightful. It was impressive from a new author and I would be happy to read more by her.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Victoria.
412 reviews317 followers
July 5, 2020
I loved the premise, but found the execution a bit lacking. I enjoy multiple narrators and non-Anglo points of view, but the promise of the road trip didn't happen until more than halfway into the narrative. I would have enjoyed this book much more had I spent more time with the Bengali widow, she was the only character whose internal journey mattered to me and who ultimately won me over to three stars.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,421 reviews538 followers
June 14, 2020
[3.5] I love the the title America for Beginners because it encapsulates this novel's promise. Three people from disparate backgrounds take a road trip across the US. At the center is a widow from India on a quest to "find" her gay, disowned son. Ultimately, I was disappointed - the novel is too neatly tied up at the end and too many loose ends along the way. I wavered between 3 and 4 stars but am rounding up because it was mostly fun to read.
Profile Image for Allie.
191 reviews
April 17, 2018
I gave this book my sincere attention for around 30 pages before it started losing my interest. It was at this point that I realized why, after a while, the pages started feeling so laborious to get through. The summary, which describes the story as being about a woman traveling across America? It takes a third of the book for Pival to even get there (that's around 100 pages). Apparently it was very important that the story switch POV between 5 different characters and that you know their backstories before they get properly involved in the plot, rather than let you naturally learn about them along the way. This sort of "development" almost always inevitably leads to characters that feel lifeless and unrelatable.
10 reviews
August 20, 2018
I don't write reviews so a book has to be very special for me to write something more than few words and most of this is blabber and most of the times i give authors benefit of doubt that may be they didn't want to portray whatever they portrayed in such a way but I guess this time I am not doing any such thing.

Everything wrong with America for Beginners by Leah Franqui.
(Yes I am writing all the wrongs, as many people have already written about what they liked about this book so I am not spending my time on that)

When I saw the cover of the Book on HarperCollins India' instagram page, I got excited because it had a saree clad women and a white women and a dark skinned men with the logo of Las Vegas and the title in the middle, America for Beginners. I quickly looked it up on Goodreads and then ordered it.
Because it had some of my of my favourite things such as an Indian link in America and a road trip. It reminded me so much of Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee's work.
As the days passed, I grew more and more impatient and when I finally got my hands on books, I started reading it without wasting much time.

Throughout the book I felt that the author doesn't know much about India, Indian woman or Bangladesh and after quick research I was right. She didn't. She's a Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia Native. Her closest link to India is her Kolkata born husband and now they reside in Mumbai, India. This link if not much but enough to give her insight into the Indian Culture.

The book pressed on issues which she shouldn't have dwelled on and pressed on things which didn't need much pressing. How and Indian women left her home to go on a journey is a big deal but I feel that somehow we didn't get more into that. Indian woman don't say much in front of their husbands but they are not at all meek. Pival was shown as this women who couldn't say much and had to take help of a coach? WHAT? That might be an isolated issue but Franqui has shown Indian Women in such a bad light that I am personally offended. Another thing which I found to be a bit wrong was how Pival treated or at least thought about her maids and servants and in general, her help. I can from personal experience of my mother and aunts say that there is nothing more Indian Woman love than their maids.

Another thing. Everyone loves Western Culture. It's better, freer, cleaner but I felt that the author constantly undermined India and Bangladesh on various occassions. Like Pival exclaimed on various occasions how America is so clean. Of course the question would arise if India is not so clean? My yes, nooo. It stinks. It is dirty. So dirty. How can Pival answer such questions when we are told by the author herself that she has never travelled for more than 5 blocks radius from her house in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. When Pival exclaims how free America is, how would she know because she has never been outside of KOLKATA. neither does she have ANY friends. How would she know?
The author does such an amazing job of portraying India as a backward country that if I didn't live in India myself, I would also believe her judging by the base of her audience which is mostly american and foreigners I am guessing.
This is 21st century, India has gotten so advanced in the past few years but how would anybody know since all everybody do these days is judge without ever knowing or seeing for themselves.
Another problem is, the author considers herself an ally of LGBTQ community writing about them.
According to her and through one of the main characters, Rebecca, we are shown how America is so liberal as compared to well India. Even without comparing it outright to India, we form parallels in our mind. The LGBTQ issue is being taken very seriously in India as well through so many rallies and awareness programs which I know of personally being from India myself. It is still a taboo but things are changing. But no. The author showed the Indian Parents in such a harsh light. Was there ever a discussion between Rahi and his parents? Well we will never know because the author thought that we should know more about the glass museum.
The author demeans India and Indian people through her writing.
The author shows Ram Sengupta, Pival Sengupta's husband as this monster who can't understand any emotions. May be he was but care to explain may be a little how he got it this way? may be that's how Indian husbands are. Right?

Now Bangladesh and Satya and Ronnie.
Bangladesh is this poor land with nothing good and nice. Right? Just East Pakistan now a poor dead country with refugees. May be they have tree plantation and Jute. Right? No? Everybody is hunger stricken and poor there who drink their lives away and just want to go to America because it is Land of big dreams. Right? Why don't you explain American racism further, Miss Franqui?
And as much as the author tried to explain the difference between Bangladesh and Bengali, she just couldn't. One is a country (Bangladesh) and one is a state in India (West Bengal) with Kolkata as it's capital. Both share the border. Now was it so difficult? She could have explained it deeper. But noooo. This book is just a bunch of stereotype. Satya eats so much.gobble gobble gobble. May be because he didn't have much to eat growing up in his poverty stricken state.

And sucide. Seriously? So if Pival doesn't meet his son, she'll just drown herself? or may be slit he vein or something? Do you know how much courage (yes, I said courage) it needs to take your own life.

God this book is such a big wannabe. I can write so much about what is wrong with this book because everything is. EVERYTHING.
I hope the author who thanked so many editors in the acknowledgement section of this book, does a little journey before writing about a country which is not of her origin, about people of different races she doesn't know personally and keeps all of it in her mind because I cannot take a disaster like this again.
In a country like America where appropriation is talked about so much, how did the author write this masterpiece?
Profile Image for Celia.
1,168 reviews151 followers
August 17, 2018
America for Beginners is the first novel written by Leah Franqui. It has many fine points, but also some disappointments along the way. The book is billed as a travel story where Pival Sangupta, recently widowed, is visiting America from India to find her estranged son. Before we get to traveling, however, the reader has to endure 110 pages of backstory on the many characters who would contribute to this journey. I kept saying ‘enough’, let’s get to the traveling. I did enjoy the tour and how the widow interacted with her guide and her traveling companion. The guide, Satya, is a fledgling tour guide; aha, America for Beginners. The companion, Rebecca, is an out of work actress who hasn’t traveled much beyond NYC; once again America for Beginners. And Pival is the rawest beginner of them all. The book ended well and somewhat erased its bad beginning. I guardedly do recommend it for its few poignant scenes and its ending which summed up everything very satisfactorily.
28 reviews7 followers
March 14, 2018
What a curious and complex cast of characters Leah Frangui created for her debut novel. A wealthy but naive widow from Kolkata with a Bangladeshi immigrant posing as an Indian tour guide and a feisty down-and-out actress as companion lead the troupe in their (and the reader's vicarious) journey across the USA. Add to these the voices of the vividly drawn supporting characters and there emerges a narrative that is compelling in its humor and its pathos. At some scenes I laughed out loud; at others, I wept. The characters, flawed as they are, ring true in their grief, guilt, and prejudices, and in their quests for acceptance, forgiveness, and a small slice of American freedom. Are the loose ends at the novel's finish too nearly tied up? Perhaps. But the lasting impressions for this reader were of joy and hope.
Profile Image for Alena.
848 reviews219 followers
July 21, 2019
Although I read my fair share of immigrant novels, it's been a long while since I've read a good road trip novel. This unique book is both those things plus a little bit more ... sexual identity, acceptance, grief, culture.

It's certainly an odd mix of characters ... Indian widow, new immigrant from Bangladesh, out-of-work actress, gay lovers in varying stages of acceptance and travel agent owner. But somehow it all works together. It was just good storytelling.
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,390 reviews2,277 followers
August 16, 2018
This is a feel-good, totally heart-warming, smiling inducing read and I gobbled it all up!

In America for Beginners we meet Pival Sengupta who is from India. She recently lost her husband. She decided to do something that is totally outside of her comfort zone- that is, book a trip to the USA to do a cross-country tour. Pival hopes to find out the truth about her son, Rahi who was banished from her home after her husband Ram, found out he was gay.

Pival books her cross-country tour through a tour operator- Ronnie Munshi. Ronnie is who I could call the ultimate hustler. He is a migrant who works hard at the American dream. He facilitates the tour by offering Satya as the tour guide and Rebecca as Pival tour companion, for modesty reasons of course.

The unlikely trio- Pival, Sayta and Rebecca will embark on a two week cross-country tour seeing most of America and experiencing life in a way they never thought possible. The book starts out a bit slow but really gets going once Pival lands in the US. I absolutely loved how amusing and hilarious the characters were. Franqui did an amazing job of bringing the characters in this book to life and I think that's one of the things I loved most about this book.

I love experiencing a new country through the eyes of a tourist and this book does a great job of doing this.

A heart-warming summery read!
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,131 reviews724 followers
July 23, 2018
Thanks to William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for this free review copy!
What a heartwarming and eye opening view of the US from an foreigner's perspective ~ I learned so much about my own country during the course of this novel, as well as about India and Bangladesh. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS brings us an Indian widow learning to be alone and coming to terms with her son's sexuality and her own former classist/homophobic beliefs, all during a whirlwind trip across the US with a motley pair of traveling companions. I loved this book and learned from this book, and am blown away by the fact that although the author does now live in Kolkata with her Mumbai-born husband, she herself is not Indian. I'm fascinated with how much research she must have had to do to write so convincingly from a cultural and racial viewpoint not her own.
If you are looking for a story of motherhood, culture, and belonging and learning to live again, definitely add this to your TBR!
Profile Image for Sarah-Hope.
1,049 reviews88 followers
July 16, 2022
This is probably my favorite read of the year thus far (I'm writing this review in August). This book pulls together an unexpected mix of characters, all wildly different from one another and shows their struggles trying to understand one another. I love that this book doesn't have villains--it's about the ways seeing the world from another's perspective is a complicated task, even when everyone is working hard to do this.
409 reviews8 followers
May 5, 2020
This is the book I needed right now. It was a terrific way to travel vicariously while cooped up inside during a recent cold spell, and it offered a heart-warming portrait of three diverse, complex characters who became unlikely traveling companions.

I was charmed by the main character, Pival Sengupta, from the first page. I sympathized with her desire to flee her suffocating home in Kolkata after her husband’s death and, daringly, travel solo to America for a cross-country trip in search of her son, Rahi.

She put her travel plans into the hands of the owner of the amusingly named First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour company, which was "housed in an office building in Queens exactly four blocks from the second-to-last stop on the N train." The owner and his inexperienced tour guide, Satya, are not exactly as advertised. But that doesn’t matter as Pival begins to experience America and so many new ways of living and being for herself. She is also accompanied by Rebecca, a young actress who is trying to escape her own frustrations and failures.

While I enjoyed the road trip and laughed at the misadventures and dining disasters that befell our trio, it’s the empathy, honesty and humanity explored in these characters and their relationships which really touched my heart. And I value this book's timely message that change is possible, even when you feel most trapped by circumstances, and that our cultural, racial and individual differences add flavor and enrich our lives rather than dividing us.

Leah Franqui has a delightful way with words and I enjoyed seeing this country through fresh eyes. I jotted down some of my favorite lines to give you a taste of their journey:

���When Ram had been alive tea had not been a beverage. Tea had been an event.”

“Pival’s parents had raised her with gentle curation, like the caretakers of a small private museum.”

“He had never seen so many kinds of people in his life before he had moved to America ... more colors and shapes and bodies than he had known possible. The irony was that everyone dressed in the same colors, somber blacks and grays, while back at home the monotony of people’s faces had been obscured by the violent rainbow of their clothing, printed cottons as far as the eye could see, swathing women in their saris or draping playfully around them in a salwar kameez."

“They walked from sight to sight along the French Quarter as the guide described the mixes and clashes of cultures that had created the world of the Creoles, the French and Spanish periods ... the shifts and struggles that had blended together disparate peoples in the slow hot saucepan of the city until it had served up something delicious.... It was a wild city, Satya realized, far smaller than New York but much more colorful, because the color didn’t come from blinking lights but from people, the way they lived and dressed, the smells and the constant music everywhere, pouring out of houses and cars and living in the air.”

“If in New York actors were high-strung and cutting, in Los Angeles they all showed a little wear and tear under the pressure of being so vividly relaxed all the time. It was as if they were boiling under the strain of being so chill. Everything was fine, everything was great, everything was so light it could crush you. People drank happiness with their kombucha, but it didn’t seem to sit right in their stomachs, from the fear you could see in their faces when they thought no one was looking.... It was so much work, this place that prided itself on being so effortless.”

"She had expected not to fit into this place, and she didn’t. But neither, it seemed, did anyone else. This was a world in which you could not-fit-in and still survive. No wonder Rahi liked it.”

If you enjoy travel and appreciate other cultures, I encourage you to join Pival, Satya and Rebecca on their journey. I’m glad I did.
Profile Image for Julia Kardon.
16 reviews11 followers
January 19, 2018
Pival Sengupta has never left Kolkata when she books a trip to America with an Indian travel company, but nothing in this road trip novel is exactly what it seems. Starting with the trip, which has a Bangladeshi, not Indian guide, and a female chaperone who is a young American actress. But also Pival, who is not on the trip to see America, but is hoping to find her son, who might be dead and whom the family cut off after he came out as gay. This novel has so much empathy for all of its characters that it's impossible not to be moved by these people figuring out who they are and what America means, looking at their own biases and assumptions and trying to learn how to see things through new eyes. It's the perfect antidote to Trumptime and I was so desperate to know how it ended that I almost cheated and skipped ahead. A perfect book.
Profile Image for Sylvia.
1,194 reviews16 followers
March 14, 2018
What an appealing book. Three unique and sympathetic characters take a trip across America with multicultural confusions and prejudices that are slowly overcome by compassion and friendship. A pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Kate Vocke (bookapotamus).
565 reviews118 followers
August 9, 2019
If you could travel to any place, what would be the one destination in America that you'd want to visit?

In America for Beginners, sometimes you need to go a long way, before you actually find what you are looking for.

Pival has left India, the only place in the world that she has ever known, to take a trip to America. Widowed and alone, but very wealthy, she enlists quite the cast of characters to take her on a cross country tour. The First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, hilariously named, mostly because it is ran by a man from Bangladesh, his brand new tour guide (also from Bangladesh), and a struggling NYC actress who takes the job as a "companion" on a whim, take Pival on the ultimate road trip from NYC to CA. But what they don't know is that Pival has a hidden agenda. Her son came out to his parents many years ago, and things did not go well. Now that her husband is gone, she is in search of answers as to what became of her son since he fled to America all those years ago.

The relationships that build along the trip are so fun and heartwarming, and the story is full of a lot of emotion and humor. There are quite a few highly entertaining episodes as cultural differences clash and I found myself laughing out loud at some of the absurd sayings and slang we have here that must be so confusing to those of other countries.

Although Pival is not from America and the culture is so very different, it was so very much relatable still as she finds herself, builds her confidence in an entirely foreign country, faces a host of familiar familial issues, and builds some very surprising friendships.

An incredible debut. Highly recommend. Now out in paperback!

Profile Image for Wendy.
2,318 reviews40 followers
March 18, 2018
Stirring and touching, “America for Beginners” which I won through Goodreads Giveaways begins when recently widowed Pival Sengupta a Bengali woman who has never travelled outside her home in Kolkata takes a cross-country tour from New York City to California with her guide Satya Roy and female chaperone Rebecca Eliot. On a trip where she’s determined to find out whether her beloved son Rahi who was ostracized by his father after declaring he was gay is alive or dead, and to end her life, Pival unwittingly becomes enmeshed in the emotional upheaval of her two companions; one a Bangladeshi immigrant struggling to find a place in his new country, and the other a promiscuous unemployed actress who feels like a failure.

Well-written and compelling Pival and her companions explore America each armed with their own preconceived ideas and biases. Woven into the challenges of the cities, sights and food they explore, Leah Frangui brings to life experiences in their past that have moulded their perceptions of their environment as well as giving glimpses into their pain, frustration, heartache and grief in their search for acceptance, redemption, hope and happiness.

Emotionally-charged and intense, the author skillfully weaves in a love affair that resonates with the upbringing in two environments; one ruled by fear and disappointment ingrained from rigid structures of duty and the crushing weight of family opinions that Bhim (Rahi) grew up in contrasted against the freedom in America that has given Jake self-awareness and confidence. Smoothly and quickly as tensions mount with the meeting between Jake and Pival the story progresses to a fascinating climax.

Bringing the story to life are complex and realistic characters with all their weaknesses and strengths like Pival Sengupta the widow of Ram, a controlling, judgemental and manipulative husband who was contained, appropriate and often cruel. A smart, lively, spirited young woman before she married, over the years Pival has adapted becoming insecure, meek and lonely; succumbing to the wishes of her husband and ruled even by the household maids who supposedly make her life comfortable. Satya Roy the young tour guide from Bangladesh impoverished and hungry in his country, leaves after his grandmother dies, hoping to find freedom and prosperity in America. Although feeling worthless after his betrayal of a friend, in his new job he’s quick-witted, respectful and eager to please. In contrast well-bred, educated, and self-confident Rebecca Eliot burns bright, wanting all that life has to offer but feeling like a failure when her dreams of an acting career haven’t gelled. Yet the only daughter in a loving, academic Jewish family, she’s kind, responsible, cheerful and competent, although often impulsive.

I thoroughly enjoyed “America for Beginners” and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Lilisa.
405 reviews58 followers
October 31, 2020
The storyline was a promising one, the character development fairly decent, and the author actually mentioned Rabindranath Tagore a couple of times - awesome! Tagore is the only Indian who has won a Nobel Prize in Literature. Tagore was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. These are what made me generous enough to give the book 2 stars. And now, for why a 2-star — wow, the characterization of Indians, Indian culture, Bangladesh and its people are so negative and stereotypical. She kept referring to Bengal and Bangladesh - no, West Bengal is a state in India and Bangladesh is a country! Yes, back in history there was one Bengal or West Bengal and East Bengal (which became East Pakistan, and now a country - Bangladesh). She trashed Punjabi behavior and food (Punjab is a northern state in India), belittled Satya and Ronnie, and made Pival out to be so naive and such a simpleton early on, it was incredible. There was a reference that Pival made about when she in Kolkata - she knew virtually everyone - ahem, there are 4.5 million people who live in Kolkata proper (probably undercounted) and more that 14 million people live in the Kolkata Metro area. So I can conclude that hyperbole and caricaturing were literary licenses deployed by the author. I usually don’t spend time writing a review for a 2-star rated book, but just had to do this. There are so many great books written about Indians and Bangladeshis, set in India and Bangladesh or in other parts of the world, that make for much better reads and understanding of the Indian sub-continent and its people. I get that the author’s entire focus wasn't on India and Bangladesh, but given that her major characters hailed from there and she’s unfolding the U.S. through their eyes, I wish she had been balanced in her depiction and characterization of Indians and Bangladeshis.
Profile Image for Vikas.
Author 3 books140 followers
April 18, 2020
My rating for this book is around 3.5 (We really need the half star rating system on GR, Stat) well coming to the book this was a nice enough read I was really impressed about the writing about India and Bangladesh which Leah captured wonderfully and I am sure that being married to a Bengali guy really helped in this regard. Coming back to the book it's the story of three individuals who are thrown together when a widow from India Pival decides to travel to America on the pretext of traveling but really to find out if her son is really dead or her husband lied about their Son who had informed them that he was gay. Then there is Satya from Bangladesh who tries to act as an Indian and an American Rebecca who is a struggling Actress. For the tour, they call come together and while traveling through America they all experience it while also finding of themselves. It was nice to read And I hope that more people get to read this.

So if you do get the chance then read it and hope you would also like it and once you have picked it then just Keep on Reading.

People who don't read generally ask me my reasons for reading. Simply put I just love reading and so to that end I have made it my motto to just Keep on Reading. I love to read everything except for Self Help books but even those once in a while. I read almost all the genre but YA, Fantasy, Biographies are the most. My favorite series is, of course, Harry Potter but then there are many more books that I just adore. I have bookcases filled with books which are waiting to be read so can't stay and spend more time in this review, so remember I loved reading this and love reading more, you should also read what you love and then just Keep on Reading.
Profile Image for Carly.
211 reviews19 followers
September 28, 2018
The synopsis of this novel immediately pulled me in. It took me a while to finish, and at times I found my thoughts wandering, but I absolutely loved reading it. America for Beginners follows the lives of three diverse strangers who find themselves bound together. Pival is a recent widow who plans to visit the US with an Indian tour company. She is not just hoping to see the sights, but also discover the whereabouts of her estranged son. Satya is hired as her tour guide. He comes from Bangladesh and has only been in the US for a year. He is struggling to find a stable income and make ends meet. Pival requests to also have a female companion for her comfort and security. Rebecca is hired, a struggling actress who is also having a hard time finding jobs. As they travel across the US, they entire into a friendship and come to deeply care for each other.

One of my favorite parts of the novel was the character development of each of those unique individuals. They start out with many cultural misconceptions and judgement, but learn to overlook their differences and understand each other. Franqui introduces many cultures and the different values we each have. The characters each learn what America means to them and that they do not need to fit in if they do not wish to do so.

I came to greatly care for each of these characters and felt as though I had really gotten to know them. This is a wonderful novel for anyone who has felt a little lost or wants to see their world from someone else's eyes.

Profile Image for Linda.
1,789 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2019
This is a rarity - two five-star reads in a row.
I love books that introduce me to different cultures and expose me to "problems" that I would not have thought a problem. In this case an Indian widow contacts a Bangaladeshi tourist coordinator who is living in the U.S. to set an itinerary for her first visit to the U.S. He hires another Bangaladeshi guide and a young struggling American actress to accompany her on her travels.
The misunderstandings among the experiences and customs of the three cultures were fascinating.
The widow has a sorrowful purpose to her travels not known by her companions.
I received my book through Book Browse and am thankful since I don't think this jewel would have been on my radar otherwise.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
1,139 reviews598 followers
September 9, 2018
Mini Review
A perfectly fine literary fiction debut. Nothing glaringly wrong with it, but nothing that particularly impressed me either. It’s quotable, but in a way that kind of feels like the author straight up telling the reader what the themes are. There’s a lot of info-dumping of backstory, which leaves the beginning of the story feeling stalled. However, the exploration of the intersection of culture and sexuality from multiple perspectives makes this book important and worth reading. 3 1/2 stars, looking forward to seeing what Franqui does next!
Profile Image for Sue Dix.
520 reviews20 followers
July 4, 2019
I was not prepared for this jewel of a novel. I had no idea what this book was about as it unfolded over the coast to coast tour booked by a widow who had never been out of Kolkata, India. Although we are privy to her reason for taking this tour, it is abruptly revealed to her traveling companions and it changes the lives of everyone involved in unforeseen ways. The ending was truly lovely, there was laughter, and, yes, tears. Leah Franqui's writing is masterful.
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