Reviewed by Nina Longfield
In a rural province of India, young Anil Patel witnesses secondhand the miracle of modern medicine when a traveling clinic restores health to a baby girl and faith within the family. Anil is then determined to enter the medical field with his father’s blessings. Anil’s father sees medicine as an honorable calling and encourages his son’s pursuit giving him permission to remain home away from the fields so he can study, which Anil does morning to night.
The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda begins with a going away party. Anil Patel is the first in his family to attend college, leave India, and become a doctor. Anil is the eldest son of a clan leader within a rural community of farmers. It is family and cultural expectation that Anil inherit his father’s chair at the head of the community table and become arbiter of community and family disputes.
Leena is Anil’s childhood friend despite being of a different social caste. She is smart and adventurous yet follows tradition of marrying and moving away from her family. It is in marriage that Leena finds fault with tradition as her new husband and in-laws attempt to control her through force. She has no contact with her family or any person she knew from her childhood. Leena grows to realize her own strengths and learns to rely on her intellect if she is going to survive.
Gowda delves into the changes within the Patel household and traditions of rural India weaving a story about growth, change, and the value of traditions. Gowda shows how family dynamics can change and how women can take on their own mantel of power and control their own destiny. Anil is steadfast in wanting to become a doctor to help others but also for a chance of independence from his family and his role of responsibility. Leena attempts to follow a more traditional role only to discover her self-sufficiency and true calling. Both Anil and Leena follow their chosen paths thinking there is only one route for them to pursue. Each character grows and changes through the novel becoming someone who follows his or her dream but is not locked into a certainty. They take on the challenges of their callings then come to accept and embrace something of their traditions as well.
The Golden Son is beautifully written with descriptions that jump off the page. Gowda expertly creates characters that are unique from one another. Her female characters are strong even in a male dominated society. The narrative style of The Golden Son took some pages to get used to. Gowda keeps the characters purposely at a distance so that the periods of closeness feel more real and intense. Once I got into the rhythm of Gowda’s cadence, I found The Golden Son difficult to set aside as I longed to know where Anil’s and Leen’a paths would take them.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review and giveaway copies were provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.