She longs for India as much as he yearns to become an American
'The Konkans' tells the story of a cross-cultural misalliance.
Family values sound like a solid bedrock on which to raise children. (Certainly, politicians think so.) But what if one spouse prizes what the other despises, as is the case with the D'Sais of Chicago?Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Francisco D'Sai is the firstborn son of a firstborn son of a firstborn son (you get the idea) of a Konkan family that views birth order as destiny. The Konkans, sometimes called "the Jews of India," are a Roman Catholic minority who live on that country's west coast. They converted to Christianity when Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama showed up on the beach in the 16th century and set up an Inquisition.
The Konkans, the second novel by Tony D'Souza (author of award-winning "Whiteman") is less a novel and more a series of interconnected short stories, set in India and Chicago in the 1960s and '70s, that pivot around three central characters: Francisco's mother and father, and his uncle Sam.
Lawrence, his dad, who worships the British with a fervor greater than Rudyard Kipling at his most colonial, longs for the West. When a white Peace Corps volunteer shows up in his village, she might as well have INS stamped on her forehead. Chicago isn't Oxford, but Lawrence and his dad see blond, ponytailed Denise as the means to make the D'Sai family fortunes.
Denise, who fell in love with India during her three years there, sees Lawrence as a way to hold on to his country. "In marrying my father, she'd brought home with her the one living and breathing souvenir of that place who could also get a job in America," Francisco says.
The D'Sai patriarch, Santan, swiftly arranges a marriage and then launches a nastiness campaign to force Denise out of India.
Once in the US, Lawrence pursues, with single-minded determination, an assimilation program of meatloaf, golf, tennis, the "right" neighborhoods, and, in one heartbreaking episode, country-club membership. After he gets a look at his mother-in-law, he realizes with horror that he's married "beneath his caste."
Denise, meanwhile, longs for India and loses patience with Lawrence's pretensions and his drinking, which takes off about the time his two younger brothers come to America and move into their resentful brother's basement.