April 2024


By Sheila Sundar
Review by
Insightful and hopeful, Sheila Sundar’s debut novel Habitations follows a young Indian American woman’s experiences with academia, immigrant community, marriage and motherhood.
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Place, purpose and self-worth are front and center in Sheila Sundar’s debut novel, Habitations, about a young girl’s journey into womanhood. We begin in the mid-’90s in South India and follow Sundar’s protagonist, Vega Gopalan, through a childhood marked by the devastating loss of her younger sister, her developing interest in sociology, her sexual longings and experiments, and the overall angst of being young.

When a scholarship takes Vega to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, the comforts and privileges she knew as an upper-caste Brahmin dissolve into the confusing and often lonely experience of being an immigrant student in the U.S. Meek and naive, however, she is not. Vega’s intelligence, humor and curiosity keep her open and engaged with new experiences.

Reflections on race, sex, caste and social norms remain the focus as Vega navigates the labyrinth of her immigrant community, academia, friendships, lovers and, eventually, a marriage not for love, but for a precious green card that will allow her to live in the U.S. and pursue her academic interests. Career developments and the birth of her daughter, Asha, unfold new challenges for Vega. But through these challenges, she becomes a surer, more hopeful woman ready to live life on her own terms.

There are many reasons to love this novel. Vega’s journey will resonate in one way or another with anyone who has suffered loss or struggled with self-doubt. Sundar’s supporting characters and rich depiction of immigrant life round out Vega’s story, no doubt drawing on the author’s own experience growing up in the ’90s as the child of Indian immigrants to the U.S. Best of all, the novel speaks to the human experience of how the burdens we carry eventually come to define our strengths.

Insightful and hopeful, Habitations delivers on all fronts.

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By Sheila Sundar
ISBN 9781668016107

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