You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the inspiration behind the title of Rakesh Satyal’s second novel, No One Can Pronounce My Name. Having grown up with a name that can be a tongue twister for white Americans, Satyal understands the bewilderment and frustration of his Indian-American characters all too well. Drawing on his own experiences in Middle America, Satyal follows up his award-winning debut, Blue Boy, with an extraordinarily compassionate work of fiction.
Taking readers into the suburbs of Ohio, Satyal chooses an otherwise unremarkable setting to tell a story that is anything but. He introduces us to Harit, a middle-aged bachelor who ineptly works in a department store by day and dresses up in his deceased sister’s sari at night. We also meet Ranjana, a stifled mother who secretly reads romantic thrillers and dreams of publishing her own stories while worrying her husband is having an affair. Finally, there is Prashant, a Princeton student who is struggling with unrequited longing for an Indian classmate, not to mention his desire to switch his major from chemistry to English literature, but he fears disappointing his parents.
At first, these three strangers’ stories are separate, united only by the common thread of their mutual isolation. Geography, race and culture alienate them from the people around them, but even worse, it has estranged them from their own selves. However, their paths gradually intersect, resulting in relationships that force them to throw open the shutters on their sheltered lives and hearts.
Ambitious in scope, No One Can Pronounce My Name dares to tackle life’s biggest questions, irrespective of nationality. Through a successful blend of pathos and humor, Satyal bravely explores themes of intimacy, identity and sexuality, asking his characters—and his readers—to closely examine the inalienable qualities that make us all human. With emotionally charged prose, he masterfully depicts the modern-day immigrant experience in a manner that is both deeply personal and universally relatable, transforming the foreign into the familiar.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Rakesh Satyal for No One Can Pronounce My Name.