Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian – ambitions in a community with a secret element

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

Ambition and the desire for the American dream is at the heart of this unusual novel. In the suburbs where Indian families gather the gossip is about the successes of certain offspring at getting into prestigious universities and afterwards into lucrative jobs. Neil Narayan has different ambitions; he is obsessed with his neighbour Anita Dayal and would do anything to spend time with her. Not that it is impossible to do so given the welcome he has always had from her mother Anjali, whose excellent cooking he has always had access to via a hidden key. What he discovers one night will change his life forever, and make a difference to those around him.

This is a vivid picture of life at the end of the twentieth century for American immigrants from India. Their motive for sacrificing everything to bring their families to a new land is to advance them in every way. Of course daughters are not always seen as important as sons, but in Neil’s family his older sister  Prachi takes all the attention. This is a well written book which pushes boundaries in several ways, as an alchemical potion is at the heart of a book which is otherwise a very realistic portrait of the lives of young immigrants. Neil tells a story of hope and guilt, ambition and thwarted desire, all within the domestic setting of suburban life. The narrative from his point of view is one of opportunities that are difficult and a life full of challenges. There are so many layers to this novel which has real depth. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this special novel. 

A Prologue features the young Anjali who is watching for her brother Vivek to return from his crammer school. Her mother is preparing something secret, something that will help her brother succeed. Anjali, being only a daughter, is excluded from the secret, for after all she must marry and that is not so difficult to achieve. As an adult, far away from her home, she tries to make a concoction of great significance. She knows that it is not quite right, and “The old recipes were never quite the same on this side of the world.” The main book starts with Neil’s realisation that his parents’ ambitions for him are the driving force in their lives. He, on the other hand, wants a date for the school party, the Spring Fling. As with many of these things, the teenage angst in the American function raises many sorts of temperatures. There is a division among the people at the party, with illicit activities including the loss of a bracelet. Anita has agreed to be his escort, but her prompt disappearance is only a foretaste of her successes in other fields which separates them. Desperate for a connection with her, he stumbles into the house late at night. He discovers a secret which involves the ambitions of others, and distills the essence of the restless ambitions of others in the community. 

This is a book of vivid images, disappointments and even tragedy. Neil’s progress, alongside that of others, becomes entwined with that of others, as he becomes aware of the problems of those around him. I enjoyed this book and its understanding of the emotions of young people. Two time periods are defined by secret events that have unusual effects, but it is also a story of very realistic young people. I recommend this story of American immigrants and the challenges they face both within and beyond their families.