No One Can Pronounce My Name

Rakesh Satyal |  Fiction


This is the Deschutes County Library 2018 community read.  And so I really WANT to give it four hearts, but it doesn't quite slide into that category for me.  No One Can Pronounce My Name is the story of Indian-Americans living in Cleveland.  Some lived in India earlier in their lives; some were born here, all identified as Indian.  This was their story about how they maintain their culture (my mouth often watered as many social events were held around homemade pakoras and samosas); how they integrate; how they assimilate; how they befriend one another; how they deal with traditions and values and norms both American and Indian; what they gain and lose when they do assimilate.

It is not a heavy read … you will laugh and cry sometimes.  The main characters are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. They are gay, straight and questioning.  They desperately want friendships and intimacy, and don’t always find the vehicles to create meaningful relationships.  Their jobs and passions differ, and the overlap of the circumstances of their lives happen by coincidence, a chance, sharing a workplace or a moment in a bar with an unlikely other.

I learned something about the challenges of building a new social structure.  I chose three stars because I found the writing confusing at times and that made it a little less engaging than I had hoped.

If you live in Deschutes County, read this and go the workshops that are sponsored by the library and hit Bend High to hear the author speak.  If you are not local, yes, I still recommend it, just not with my full heart and enthusiasm.  It’s worth a peruse as you make your own decision.



2 responses on “No One Can Pronounce My Name

  1. Daniel Murphy

    I do give this book four stars. Full disclosure: I was on the committee that selected No One Can Pronounce My Name for A Novel Idea. I think that one key difference between the way I would review this book, and the way you did, Andrea, was your repeated use of the word “they”, as in “how they assimilate; how they befriend one another; how they deal with traditions and values and norms”. In the end, this book about people striving in private and distinct worlds (a woman who wants to be a writer, in a suffocating marriage, working in a proctologists office; a man who cannot think of a single friend that he has in the world; a wonderfully portrayed writers group; a man that is researching oral sex in an effort to win his wife back but neglects to delete the search history on his computer), is about how WE assimilate; how WE befriend one another; how WE deal with differing traditions and values and norms in those we encounter on a daily basis in life. We live in a deeply fractured society, one riddled with contempt, condescension, and disdain for each other. Rakesh Satyal, an immigrant, first generation South Asian, puts his finger on some of what many of us multi-generation Americans seem to have forgotten: to know a person, one must invest energy in learning their deep story. For people to escape the personal prisons that circumstances and our own doubts create, most often, we need a hand up. In this story, the hand that reaches out is often a different skin color than the one requiring help up. The hand of one has a different sexual preference than the hand of the other. The hand being extended is separated by decades in age from the hand that reaches out for assistance. Or the hands are from different religions, or no religion at all.

    Lastly, Satyal emphasizes, repeatedly, that for us to grow, we must repeatedly take uncomfortable risks. We must read our truly innovative vampire novel in front of our writer’s group. We must be willing to experience intimacy in ways that are novel, and possibly frightening to us. Maybe we have make the first move in a love affair with a person that is so lonely that the notion of being loved is almost inconceivable.

    These are all lessons that we seem to have become unfamiliar with in this country that we love, but lucky for us, with skill and humor, and a gentle warmth, a newcomer to America is willing to remind us of what we need to do if we wish to repair our torn and frayed national fabric.

    1. Andrea Sigetich Post author

      Lovely comments, Dan. I really like the differentiation between they and we. I don’t think i ever thought or we or me as I read this book. I wonder why. Perhaps it was because I didn’t relate to any of the characters. I didn’t see myself in any of them. (Perhaps that is me; perhaps that is the author; probably both!) Perhaps I feel so integrated into my culture and society as a white educated woman, I couldn’t put myself in another’s place. Perhaps it is because there are so many traditions and cultural components that have been lost, being the third generation of my family in this country, not the first, that it isn’t something i even truly consider. Fascinating!!