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Passage West

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  251 ratings  ·  59 reviews
A Recommended Book from BookRiot, Bustle, The Millions and Teen Vogue

A Los Angeles Times BEST CALIFORNIA BOOK of 2020 * A New England Independent Booksellers' 2020 NEW ENGLAND BOOK AWARD FINALIST

A sweeping, vibrant first novel following a family of Indian sharecroppers at the onset of World War I, revealing a little-known part of California history

1914: Ram Singh arrives
Hardcover, 429 pages
Published April 21st 2020 by Ecco
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Average rating 4.19  · 
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Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Readers of historical fiction such as Pachinko or Homegoing will love this. This will especially appeal to readers who enjoy reading about less known people or incidents that have been forgotten and erased. Here, finally, is the story of Indian farmers in Southern California before World War I. These immigrant farmers, along with the Japanese helped build and develop this land into the profitable and needed crops while given very little respect and civil rights. Through the eyes of a ne
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
My husband came to America in the 1960's to attend the University of Michigan as a foreign student. As a Sikh, he has vivid memories of going with his fellow classmates to California to work on the farms in order to earn enough money for the following year of his education.
This narrative rings true to the many tales he has been telling me for the past 50 years. Author Rishi Reddy has succeeding in making the history of the Sikhs in California come alive in a compelling, albeit often disturbing,
Oct 25, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing is solid. But it's the historical context that captured and held my attention.

Set in the 1910's, this story of Sikh farmers in Imperial County (a county in Southern California that borders Mexico) is fascinating. It speaks of other groups, Japanaese, Mexicans, Chinese, etc., who worked in agriculture and whose contributions are felt today. It speaks of the racist people and racist immigration policies that were present then and unfortunately relevant to today's so-called administrat
Sep 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this a lot, and it is a niche that has been barely explored in fiction. The novel centers around Ram Singh, a Punjabi farmer who comes to the west coast of the US while it's being cultivated pre-WWI to make money to send back home. The writing very adeptly explores that liminal space between cultures that comes when someone leaves their home country for another country, one that in some ways (for some people, many ways) becomes their home and in other ways never can. This is a ver ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

I enjoyed this novel thoroughly. Did you know that Sikh Indian farmers were some of the pioneers in California's Imperial Valley, that rich citrus land hugging the Mexican border? Rishi Reddi has written a moving and powerful story of a small group people in an unlikely place at an unlikely time.

When Ram SIngh arrives in a tiny town of Fredonia along the Mexican border, he's already been in the US for a while working in sawmills in Washington State. A new friend he met on the ship comin
[Excerpt from my slightly longer review on Paperback Paris]: Passage West is, at its heart, a story about the difference between languages and the tragedy of not being understood. The writing itself almost feels translated; the word Reddi uses isn’t always the word that would fit perfectly as if the direct meaning got lost in translation. This narration works in Reddi’s favor because you can feel the way Ram is figuring out how to communicate his experiences in a language that doesn’t come natur ...more
Bill Silva
Sep 07, 2020 rated it liked it
The main appeal of the novel for me is its exploration of a history I was unaware of--that of immigrant Sikhs (and others from South and East Asia) to California in the early 20th century, and their interactions with the Anglo and Mexican populations of the region. The novel benefits from the author's extensive research in its rich detail and storylines--but it suffers as well, because the narrative urgency and drive one typically expects in a historical novel are absent, made secondary to the e ...more
Reddi is a meticulous researcher, history buff and, like her character Ram, a fascinating storyteller. She skillfully embeds the ubiquitous bigotry of the time in her narrative. Although the novel provides readers with a detailed view of our nation’s past indignities, the book’s themes of racism, discrimination and anti-immigration, disconcertingly resemble the divisiveness of the United States today.

Read our full review here:
Feb 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those stories that will wreak havoc on your heartstrings even if you resist it. Sometimes plot lines drop off suddenly and return a little awkwardly, but it’s not irksome, and it’s far outweighed by the novel’s grandeur and skillful ambition. Reddi’s use of primary sources and archival material is poignant. A marvelous read!
Laura Trombley
This book will take a little work to get into. It starts slow and it is hard to like the characters at first. Your patience will be rewarded since the characters are vivid and human and well rounded out. You will find yourself appalled if you are an evolved human being at the actions of our country. I always take the opinion that we shouldn't judge people of past times by our current enlightened state of awareness, but the truth be told, we are almost exactly the same today. There has been some ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, powerful book.
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I don’t remember much from Reddi’s short story collection, KARMA, but when I read it in 2009, apparently I liked it.

Looking back in 2020, I wonder if Reddi is a more adept short story writer than she is a novelist. Granted, this is her debut in the long form.

The story focuses on Punjabi sharecroppers in California; in the decade before, during and after World War I. It’s a time of a lot of change in the United States—the cultivation of the west, an inter-country war, a pandemic, and agricultural
Sep 15, 2020 rated it liked it
“…there is a land of one’s birth, and there is a land of one’s work and action. Janma bhoomi and karma bhoomi. Separate places. The distinction was meant to explain the pain of being broken in two. As if using the words to describe the separation made it natural. But it was not. He knew that now. He existed in two places at once…To divide the world into janma bhoomi and karma bhoomi explained nothing. He would be forever suspended between two lands, never whole.”

Passage West is a sweeping narrat
Lisa Hacker
Oct 05, 2020 rated it liked it
This reminded me of 'Pachinko' - a long (though not quite epic) story of an ethnic group's struggle as immigrants in a society that wants their labor, but does not accept them as people. But in 'Passage West,' it is the USA, the purported land of opportunity, that has its boot on the proverbial neck of the protagonists, a group of Indian-born men who brought their farming expertise to California in the early 1900s. This is a chapter of American history I was ignorant of, and the novel is worth r ...more
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
The line between good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

This is an immigrant story. Unless you are from the Imperial Valley of California, as I am not, the particulars will probably be surprising, but the story is as old as humanity, which began in Africa, we are told by the paleoanthropologists, but did not stay there. My ow
Aug 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a crucial book for our time. This is a rare book that actually made my chest ache with the characters’ wins and losses. It is a slow moving, atmospheric book that takes you into a dusty farming town in southeastern California. You will join Indian Americans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, African Americans, and Caucasian Americans as they pursue the American Dream, though the rules are different for each group. And the rules can change at any time.

This would h
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While it took a while for me to get into the novel, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Reddi sets it in a little known part of history, where Indian farmers pioneered California's Imperial Valley, using knowledge they gained from home to grow crops like lettuce and cotton.

Reddi takes us from pre-WWI all the way through. She shows that even during the early 1900s, the world was already becoming globalised with migrants moving away from home and raising their children in a different country, with different
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was unaware of the story of Indian immigrants arriving in California in the early 1900s until I read “Girl Gone Viral” with its quick mention about Punjabi-Mexicans and roti quesadillas. This novel really delves into the prejudices, the harsh life of sharecropping, the overwhelming confusion and desperation that accompanies any journey to a foreign land, and the usual tight bonds and infighting Desi families have had since time immemorial. The ping pong timeline and sprawling storyline can be ...more
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Passage West, a historical novel based primarily in the Imperial Valley in the early 1900’s, uses the historical lens of that time to look at immigration, cultural assimilation, and the question of who should be able to be a US citizen. One of the things I liked best about this book was that I was not familiar with this period of history in the Imperial Valley of California and this was a great way to learn about it along with providing a fresh perspective on immigration.

Rishi Reddi uses the sto
This was an amazing book! I grew up in Brawley, CA & my family was amongst the early settlers of the Imperial Valley. As a teen, I worked for Niaz Mohamed, Jr., tagging pallets of cantaloupes as they were trucked into the cooler from his fields. There’s even a paragraph about the USDA experimental station in AZ, where my great-grandfather worked to develop Pima cotton with the tribe there. Needless to say, this story resonated with me deeply.

Ram was a wonderfully written protagonist. Following
Jun 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A great view into a piece of history that isn't taught or even that well known: the history of Indian (specifically those from the Punjab region) farmers in Southern California. Touches on a lot of really fascinating things including the designation of various Indian groups as "white" and the overturning of this through various political and cultural processes, marriages between Punjabi men and Mexican women, and the beginning of corporate farming.

An interesting aside is that it's this same his
Sep 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow! I had no idea that Eastern Indians had to overcome so much prejudice in California in the 1910s to 1920s. This story evolves as they overcome so many obstacles and problems, but they keep piling up. It seems like they can never catch a break. Through the eyes of Ram, we discover what the expectations of the extended family are. The poor guy wants to go back home to his wife, and see the son whom he has never met. But the extended family, ie greedy uncle, keeps asking him to stay and send mo ...more
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Passage West, is very much about the American Dream. It’s set in 1913 California farm country, but the characters are nothing like the sharecroppers you’d find in a Steinbeck novel. Instead this is the story of an Indian immigrant, Ram Singh, who’s come to the U.S. to make his fortune. He finds work on a cantaloupe farm run by a friend and fellow immigrant, Karak, but Ram is anxious to return to his wife and newborn son back in Punjab. In the midst of World War I, anti-immigrant sentiment grows, ...more
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Reddi’s “Passage West” is about two Punjabi men who become farmers in California’s Imperial Valley before World War One. Ram is level-headed and long-suffering, sending money back to support his family in India while hot-headed Karak crosses racial boundaries to marry a young Mexican woman. I appreciate the story for covering a little-written about community in history and the sweeping scope of the story, but I feel that some of the characters (especially the Latino ones) could have been better ...more
William Bell
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of the most memorable reads of 2020; a compelling beautifully written story of the intersection of three cultures (Indian, Japanese and Mexican) in America just before the Spanish flu outbreak and WWI. What amazes me is how very little I knew of this immigrant population and this slice of American history.
Equally fascinating for the history (Reddi spent 15 years researching for the book) and the plot. The writing is lyrical and the characters are poignant and utterly human. This is a story
Feb 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. You can tell a monumental amount of research went into reconstructing the very particular melting pot that was California's Imperial Valley in the WWI era: Indian, Japanese, and Mexican sharecroppers and farmhands are the cast of characters. That meticulous attention to historical detail grounds the action, but makes the book move at a pretty glacial pace until the last hundred pages or so; I personally didn't mind. The novel also underscores just how little progress ...more
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

The research that went into this story: the history of two countries, of a homeland and a diaspora, and of the diversity of immigrant communities is incredible. Passage West explores a number of themes regarding immigration, diaspora communities, and belonging, and the way Reddi created an honest conversation surrounding them kept me reading, but I was disappointed by the lack of a driving conflict or goal in the story.
Sara Brown connelly
Dec 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When so many people talk about a simpler time, they really don't know that it never existed. This book talks about little discussed discrimination in southern California when people who came from India tired of being treated as less than second class citizens by the British, only to be treated to the same or worse in America. It also looks at the interaction between people who came from Mexico and India. It was also an eye opening look at mass ag after WWII. ...more
Sara Broad
Sep 26, 2020 rated it liked it
"Passage West" by Rishi Reddi is a novel about the true pioneers of the western frontier. Historically, I gained a lot from this book. I never knew much about the settlers, post-indigenous land thieving, of the West Coast. I thought the plot, in combination with the historical setting, made for a good read, but I didn't love the characters or the dialogue. ...more
Diane Lock
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An incredible story!

This amazing book took me into a world I did not know existed. Through Ms. Reddi's brilliant writing I have learned of the hardships faced by these hardworking people. We like to think of the U.S as a place of refuge and welcome, but racism and bigotry and jealousy simmer close to the surface.
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Rishi was born in Hyderabad, India, and has lived in England and the United States. She graduated from Swarthmore College and Northeastern University School of Law. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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