The Road Home (Back Bay, $14.99) is Rose Tremain’s touching and often humorous saga about an immigrant from the former USSR—the Ukraine? Belorussia?—someplace in that cold and backward part of Europe. Lev has left his little girl with his own mother so he can go to England, partly to make a better life, partly to leave behind the grief over his recently dead wife. He takes any job he can, since he is all but destitute, and fortunately most people are kind. He finally gets a good position in an upscale restaurant where he learns how to cook. His sense of being out of place is never assuaged; he thinks often about his family and his best friend, Rudi. When he learns that a dam will drown their village, he works two jobs to save money to open his own restaurant in the new town that the dam will create.
Jhumpa Lahiri presents a generous picture of the Indian-American parents who straddle two cultures, and the second generation which feels almost entirely “American.” The title for her collection, Unaccustomed Earth (Vintage, $15), comes from a story by Hawthorne; she suggests that Indians striking “their roots into unaccustomed earth” will flourish. The title story, my favorite, is about a young Indian-American woman who invites her recently widowed father to visit her in Seattle. After seeing how attached he becomes to her son, she overcomes her previous misgivings and asks him to move in with her family, but it turns out that he has other plans. There is both a celebration of achievement and a sense of loss or difference that pervades the stories.
It can be disconcerting when life imitates art. So it was with Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (Harper Perennial, $16.95), published a year before the horrible attacks in Mumbai last fall. No mere police procedural this, but a deeply political and social commentary on the state of Indian society, with Mumbai as the central character. The book is narrated in chapters which alternate between Ganesh Gatoinde, the Godfather, who tells his fearsome stories of gang warfare, and the honest policeman, Sartaj Singh, who represents the effort to hold back the tide of corruption and religious fanaticism that threatens to engulf India. An important theme is the humiliation that many suffered during Partition. When you embark on a long plane ride or on vacation, Sacred Games will be a perfect companion.