Tehzib Book Review

By Uzma Jamil

Where Monsoons Cry appears to be a collection of short stories, but it could also be a novel because of the seamless movement among stories, between the perspectives of different characters. At the center of these stories is the life-altering event of migration, from there to here, from India to America. Ostensibly, it is a temporary migration, a sojourn, to study in America and then return home. But, as they say, you can never come home again. And so it is in the case of most of the protagonists in these stories as well. It is the heartbreaking simplicity with which this moment is described that makes this book unique. For example, the mother describes the departure of her daughter in “Almost a Son:” “At the top step, before entering the plane, she turned and waved. I haven’t seen her since then. I asked for a photograph when I heard she had cut her hair. Photographs were misleading, she wrote, and when people pose and say, ‘cheese’, it is not a true moment. She never sent one”(p. 43).

But, this separation is not permanent. The daughter does return, but not the same daughter who had left. The tensions of return to one’s homeland, of dealing with the relationships disrupted by distance, first physical and then emotional, is another theme in this collection. In “Almost a Son,” the daughter returns with an American fiancé, introducing a new element in her relationship with her family. In “Pink Flamingo”, she returns to attend her father’s funeral, standing out amongst the other gray and black mourners in her pink dress and makeup, disrupting not only the color scheme, but also family decorum and the mother’s sense of place within her family and her grief at losing her husband. A return to India means not only facing old memories, but also introducing a new generation to what was once home. It also includes the daughter’s daughter, who comes back with her mother to experience India in “Peacock Dance.”

These family ties that bind mothers and daughters together is key in this book. The stories are centered around women and the different roles they take on, on both sides of the cultural and generational divide, between India and America, between East and West. What does it mean to be a daughter who leaves to study in the States and is forced to confront an entirely new world, and what does it mean to be the mother who lets her child go, knowing that she cannot stop her daughter’s will? What does it mean to be a desi woman who settles in America, who has a white boyfriend who eventually becomes her husband? What does it mean to be a mother who comes from both worlds, desi and American? What does it mean to raise your children, so that they can be comfortable in both worlds?

This collection of short stories asks all these piercing questions, and more. But it doesn’t offer any easy answers. Instead, it offers up the contradictions of life, individuals whose hopes and fears war against each other, but who manage to achieve their dreams and goals anyway. It offers insight into what it means to be human and to struggle with these questions. It shows us how to live these complexities by delving into the hearts and minds of the characters and laying bare pieces of their stories in this collection. That is perhaps the powerful beauty of this book, because Noronha allows us all to connect with a universal experience of migration and questions of belonging through the specific worlds that each of her characters inhabit.