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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian | Thoughts

  Published on: April 6, 2021   ||   Format: ebook   ||   Location: US, India

One line review: When a gold heist once results in unspeakable tragedy, what will Neil and Anita do 10 years later when gripped with a similar desire? 

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆


"How old are you?" I suddenly asked, then flushed. There was something mesmerizing about the way Ramesh Uncle spoke of history, as though he'd witnessed it firsthand. "I am one of those trees with so many age rings round its middle that you cannot really tell anymore."


Neil Narayan does not have the same drive or ambition that his peers have towards academics or even extra-curricular activities. His older sister is headed to Duke and his classmates toward other successful destinies, but Neil just mostly wants to be with his neighbor, Anita Dayal, for whom he has complicated feelings - lust, romance, or is it just curiosity? Anita is extremely successful but also has a secret - she and her mother have been brewing an ancient potion using gold stolen from people whose success they are hoping to harness. When Neil discovers this secret, he wants in. For a brief time, he seems to suddenly be more successful in all his endeavors, until he goes one step too far and things get tragically wrong.

Gold Diggers is quite unlike any book I've read before. I almost didn't want to read it because alchemy reminds me of boring middle school classes but I am glad I picked it. A lot of time is spent talking about the brewing and drinking of this magical potion, and its effects on its drinkers - both in terms of the success that follows and also the addictive tendencies that they display. One can put this into magical realism, fantasy, or historical fiction (if you believe in that stuff) but the good thing is that it doesn't matter - very quickly, I accepted it as a quirky aspect of this story. It is also core to the entire plot and why Neil and Anita do certain things.

This is a very rich novel, culturally. Most of the characters are either Indian or Indian American. There is a lot of reference to both groups' customs and practices but what impressed me a lot was how the phrases used in the book changed depending on whether that part of the story was set in India or in the US. 

The book starts with an insight into Anjali Dayal's upbringing in Bombay (before it was called Mumbai) and then we quickly jump more than 20 years later to Neil's life in a suburb in Atlanta, and his next door neighbor, Anita, who is Anjali's daughter. The last part of the book is set 10 years later, when Neil is working through his dissertation and Anita has her own business. Both were well-told and nicely linked together. I can't say I liked any of the characters though. I didn't hate them, but they were too self-centered to be likable. That was the intention of the author, so full points there. Neil does a good job giving a humorous perspective to others' actions. He also doesn't keep his thoughts in check - so his lascivious thoughts had me cringing often. 

This is definitely not a book to rush through - I made the mistake of assuming it was, and it went slower than it should have. There's definitely a lot to appreciate in this book - the plot, the culture, the vernacular. There's also a little history in here about the California Gold Rush and the forty-niners (not the Football team). While I had heard a bit about the gold rush, this is the first time I actually read through its history (some from the book, some from Wikipedia). Ultimately, I appreciated how well the author used a historical event (gold rush) and a medieval practice (alchemy) to bring together a mother and daughter's intense ambition (Anjali and Anita) with a neighbor's intrigue (Neil) and connect them to a cultural trend (India's love affair with gold). She does this with a good insight into the customs of the characters. Once I read it, as unlikely as it was that a gold potion can give you new strengths, it felt very believable when reading this book. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. Gold Diggers is releasing today in the US.