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On the Outside Looking Indian, Rupinder Gill

2012/04/14

I won this ARC in a Goodreads contest; apparently winners are chosen based on “randomness, site activity, genre of books on your shelves, current phase of the moon, and more,” so I was interested to see if they had correctly chosen me as a target audience for this book. In this memoir, Rupinder, a thirty-year-old Indian-Canadian woman, decides to revisit her childhood by attempting to do some of the things that she had wanted to do, but was forbidden by her strict and thrifty parents. She narrows down her list to five things: learn to swim, take lessons, visit Disney World, go to camp, and have a pet. With the support of her friends and her siblings (including three sisters and a brother), Rupinder sets out to experience her childhood dreams.

As the only Indian family in a primarily white community, Rupinder relates stories of the dreaded shopping for school clothes at the discount store in the mall, attempting to trade food with her schoolmates during lunch, being compelled to wear full Indian suits during the school’s ethnic celebration (at which all the other students were “third-generation Canadian white, and thus dressed in their native dress of jeans and T-shirts”). She sets out to learn to swim, tap dance, and buy a dog all at once, and ends up overwhelmed with worry, spending hours trying on bathing suits, taking allergy tests to make sure that she is not allergic to dogs, and borrowing pets from friends. Finally, Rupinder’s sister Gurpreet decides to get a dog — a Norfolk terrier named Auggie, who soon becomes the pet of the entire Gill family, even their parents. As the weeks go by, Rupinder volunteers as a camp counselor, moves to New York City after quitting her job, and takes a trip to India with her mother.

I enjoyed reading Rupinder’s narrative; her stories are well-told and evoke memories of my own Chinese American upbringing. However, the flow of the chapters is a little choppy; there are three parts to the book, but the first part is about 150 pages, while the third part is only 30. The final chapters of the book seem rushed, while the conclusion felt like it left the reader hanging — the author speaks of an upcoming trip in the next year, but also determines that she has been “unabashedly selfish” for the past twelve months. For all the time spent describing her enjoyment in spending time with friends, family and new experiences, the book seemed to close on a confusing note.

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