Immigrant expressions lost in translation
Essaying the experience of an immigrant experience is like an emotional rollercoaster - the angst, the drama, the sudden upheaval from one’s homeland to a country halfway across the globe with the hope for a brighter future, the disappointments, the confusion, the identity crisis - the range of emotions and the final catharsis is always intense. Taking that into account, Roshi Fernando’s Homesick is a book that triumphs in its touching accounts of an extended Sri Lankan family who migrate to England. It’s however difficult to put a finger on what actually this book is - it doesn’t read like a novel, nor is it a series of short stories because each chapter is connected to the next, but again it’s not a linear story. The story flits between the ‘70s and ‘90s, and sometimes you already know what’s happened almost twenty years in advance. So in theory, you could pick up any chapter and read it without reading the others, which is not the quality of a novel making ‘first time novel’ not the best label for Homesick.
The book follows Victor and Nandini and their three children, Preethi, Rohan and Gehan as they come to terms with their lives away from Sri Lanka. The book especially follows along Preethi’s story thread and explores her growing pangs and the all too heart wrenching confusion of growing into a woman you’re not too sure you want to be. Her rebellions, like smoking cigarettes secretly, her careless promiscuity etc. echo the tempest crashing through her mind as she wades a foreign land, not knowing where she really belongs.
The stories tackle various themes - from rocky marriages to terrorism to friendship to the father-son bond and many, many more, and each story takes the reader deeper into the web of a life being built ever so cautiously, forever second-guessing. What is especially charming is the way the book manages to capture the immigrant experience through various generations, and not just a first generation immigrant’s perspective. It gives the reader a broader understanding about the perils of detachment and maybe makes one more empathetic to such people.
The only drawback is that it is difficult to keep up with the number of characters that were introduced in the book. After a while, you wonder where some of the people had disappeared to, or who they are in the first place. It makes you care less about the events in the story, in a way. Roshi Fernando creates a vibrant world set away from her homeland (perhaps drawing from her own experience as an immigrant in London) but fails to hold the reader’s attention for too long. Perhaps, short stories are the way to go for this author?