The Monday Book – The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

Guest review by Janelle Bailey, retired Literature teacher.

I obtained this book quite a while ago after first being introduced to Mira Jacob when I read her Good Talk. Reading Kristen Radtke’s Seek You recently  reminded me of Jacob’s Good Talk, and I realized, then, that I had not yet read this older of Jacob’s books. So I packed it up as a treasure to enjoy on a recent vacation. And I am not all sorry to have done so or spent that beach time with these characters and their stories.

This novel provides engagement with and a thoughtful introduction to an Indian-American family and the people, history, culture, and stories connected to them. These characters are complex and interesting and thus present worthwhile story and themes as well. It seems that many immigrants to this country navigating the language, culture, traditions, reception of them, etc. may see themselves reflected, and those of us whose experiences have not been similar can certainly learn from and perhaps empathize with others we meet who have traveled this route. Additionally, these characters face many realities and issues that exist for many if not all—not only immigrants—such as work/life balance, insomnia(?!), marriage, religion, family, tragedy, childrearing, illness and wellness (physical and mental, both), many relatable for lots of us.

Thomas and his wife Kamala, along with their children, son Akhil and daughter Amina, navigate this cross-country/cross-cultural existence in the 1970s-1990s, as they raise their family in New Mexico—and at a great distance from some of their family in India. The story alternates between the most recent events—somewhat bizarre—affecting them and the past twenty years of their own American lives and history. And sometimes understanding what is “real” or true is a challenge for all involved, including the reader.

This is truly a thoughtful and engaging read on a number of levels and with the rich characterization and those thoughtful, thought-filled “layers” of value and meaning that I find only in the very best books.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is nothing like Jacob’s Good Talk, at least not in form–that a graphic collage and this a traditional novel—but I very much enjoyed this book of hers as well. Clearly she is a talented writer and mixed media artist, both.

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