Is there anything better than lazing around in full sun with a book and cold drink in your hands? It’s probably one of my favorite past times… especially if I find myself on a beach with sand between my toes (and everything else that sand gets stuck between).
I’ve been very strategic this summer to ensure I have adequate time to delve into as many books as I can! Let me tell you, I have read some amazing books lately too! Some of them are simple books with good stories, and others are thought provoking, journeys through very serious subjects.
We are quite a ways off from the end of the year, but I have this feeling America for Beginners may go on my list of BEST BOOKS I’ve read this year! I’m really not exaggerating, this book has a little bit of everything… from the road trip to clashing cultures, you honestly won’t be able to put this book down!
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
I actually sat down in studio and talked with author Leah Franqui recently about her debut novel and asked her to tell us what America for Beginners is about:
But here’s the deal, American for Beginners is SO MUCH MORE.
The novel follows the story of a Bengali widow, Pival, who begins a road trip through America with the ultimate goal of finding her son. Pival books her trip through a tourist company that specifically caters to Indians and markets their business to Bengali’s. She is assigned a young tour guide who is actually Bangladeshi and has just recently immigrated to America and is now tasked with escorting not only Pival, but her hired female companion, Rebecca, around the United States. Their journey from New York to Los Angeles will be one road trip you won’t forget.
Franqui’s writing and expert storytelling come together to form a novel with a very strong message that truly needs to be heard more often. In America, we are in the midst of an uphill battle in regards to racial and cultural discrimination and a very important issue within America for Beginners is the prejudice between Bengalis and Bangladeshis. I asked Leah if she could explain this a little more.
She’s right! Honestly, I’m not well versed in Indian culture and this prejudice was news to me and it played a crucial role in the story as did cultural differences in general. America has always been seen as a melting pot but we are becoming more aware of our own culture’s lack of understanding of others. I asked Leah a little more about these contrasting cultures.
Which reminds me, I totally social media stalked Leah Franqui before I interviewed her because that’s how you prep for an interview, right?! Anyways, on a few of her social media accounts she has these great videos in which she’s talking about her novel. In this one:
I’ve always known the title of this novel, from the first day I started writing it. And by the way, I believe in the dream of the New World, I believe in an America that is a space for hope, for reinvention, for asylum, for all. That is the America I believe in and I believe we can make that still, if we just keep working and fighting for it. As the Talumd says, “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it”. Let us abandon nothing but our pain and move together towards the future. #americaforbeginners #americaisalreadygreat #novel #debut
In the video she describes America as a land in which people have “the opportunity to reinvent their self” and I’m not sure there has ever been a better way to describe the current image of America. I asked Leah what drew her to this idea…
And America may be described as a melting pot but we can definitely say we’re a culture that is not entirely open minded. In Leah’s novel, her characters struggle with their own ideals and their acceptance of different ideals and morals is not something that comes easily for each other. However, they don’t completely shut out the idea of change and instead they learn a very valuable lesson in acceptance. Leah talked to me a little more about how important it is to have open conversations and being amenable to other opinions…
If you want to check out the article on Trevor Noah she mentioned I have conveniently linked it below.
YES to everything about this. Yes to identity, yes to America as, theoretically, a land of multiple identities that we need to continue to honor and protect, yes to context, yes to Trevor Noah’s french accent, yes all around. Yes.https://t.co/PO0GsP8UDv
— Leah Franqui (@leahfranqui) July 20, 2018
Really, can Leah be any more wise?! Seriously, I feel like this conversation was inspirational. Case in point: “No one likes being told that they’re wrong… we need to be able to let go of that feeling which is almost impossible.” Wisdom we can use every day in almost any situation.
Let’s go back to the characters in the novel. Not only do we follow them on their tour of America but we also get a glimpse into their backgrounds and how they each came to be within the story. Leah’s characters are multidimensional and very realistic, each with their own real-world problems. I asked Leah how difficult it was to create characters so intricate.
And truly, America for Beginners is very complex but you’re immediately drawn to Pival, the main character who is a widow travelling to America from Kolkata, India. Part of Pival’s background is very shocking for anyone who isn’t versed in Indian day-to-day life. I would personally imagine that travelling from the U.S. to India would be a HUGE culture shock and even more so if you aren’t sure what to expect.
But Mumbai and Kolkata are VERY far away from each other even though they’re in the same country. I was curious why Leah chose Kolkata as the home town of Pival.
But Leah experienced the cultural differences first hand. She currently lives in Mumbai with her husband, and I wanted to know what it was like for her to live in India as an American woman.
HOW GREAT WOULD IT BE TO LIVE IN MUMBAI?! Indian culture is truly beautiful and sadly we only get to see an Americanized version of it. Can you imagine being lucky enough to live in the midst of a culture you’re writing about?
Leah’s first hand experience actually helped her write America for Beginners in more than one way.
Honestly I could have asked Leah questions ALL DAY. She is truly so fun to talk to and she is fascinating! Leah is actually from Philadelphia, has lived in New York, graduated from Yale, has a Masters from NYU Tisch, operates 2 blogs, is a playwright and that really isn’t even the end of the list. From her list of qualifications and hobbies it is abundantly obvious and she has a passion for writing. I asked Leah if there was a specific moment in time in which she cam to the realization that writing was what she wanted to do.
I am truly excited that Leah followed her passion… mostly for selfish reasons such as my future reading her books. Also, I tried to suggest a future Franqui fashion line, but alas, no luck. No, I’m not kidding! Just go to any of Leah’s social media pages and look at the dresses she is wearing. SHE MADE THOSE HERSELF. I am in awe of them and truly, in the back of my mind, I had wanted to ask her where she was getting her dresses. They are so flattering and fun… and then I realized she had a sewing blog! So I actually asked Leah what got her into sewing…
So who wants to give me sewing lessons?
Not only is Leah Franqui’s debut novel amazing, but she is truly an interesting and FUN person! I am so excited that I had the opportunity to interview her over the phone and I hope one day I can run into her in person!
America for Beginners is out TODAY and you can purchase it at your local bookstore or online!
If you want to follow Leah Franqui you can follow her
on Twitter @leahfranqui
OR check out her blogs