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America for Beginners

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Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life. Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be? Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.


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Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life. Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pival’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be? Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.

30 review for America for Beginners

  1. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    4 stars This is a fictional story of Pival Sengupta, a wealthy widow from Kolkata, India. Her husband Ram has been dead for several months and she decides to go to the United States, ostensibly to take a guided tour, but in reality to find out if her gay son Rahi is alive or dead. When he came out to his parents, his father disowned him and forbade him from all future contact. Ram received a phone call shortly after Rahi announced that he was gay. Ram told Pival that Rahi was dead. But she never 4 stars This is a fictional story of Pival Sengupta, a wealthy widow from Kolkata, India. Her husband Ram has been dead for several months and she decides to go to the United States, ostensibly to take a guided tour, but in reality to find out if her gay son Rahi is alive or dead. When he came out to his parents, his father disowned him and forbade him from all future contact. Ram received a phone call shortly after Rahi announced that he was gay. Ram told Pival that Rahi was dead. But she never saw a death certificate, or received his ashes. She has an address in Los Angeles, where he and his partner lived. She has contracted a 2 week tour with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, which is actually run by Ronnie Munshi, a Bangladesh immigrant. He has assigned a new hire, Satya, also from Bangladesh, as her guide. Pival also demands a female companion, for the sake of propriety. Ronnie hires Rebecca, an out of work aspiring actor to be the companion. How these 3 disparate people interact and discover things about each other, and themselves, makes for an interesting read. One quote on Ronnie's desire to keep secret the Bangladesh connection: "He would remind Satya to be as Indian as possible when he got a moment alone with him, and reprimand him for this one-hour-early-trick. And, he thought, make it mandatory for all his guides from now on." Thank you William Morrow for sending me this book through LibraryThing.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Rohan

    America for Beginners is an extraordinary debut by Leah Franqui. Once I finished the book, it gave me a tremendous sense of lightness and hope. It is something I wanted from a book for a while as I struggle to find a sense of hope from the world nowadays. After so many authors telling me what is wrong with the world and humanity, it warmed my heart to read something that told what was beautiful about humanity. In a world where nations and society are constantly looking inwards, America for Begin America for Beginners is an extraordinary debut by Leah Franqui. Once I finished the book, it gave me a tremendous sense of lightness and hope. It is something I wanted from a book for a while as I struggle to find a sense of hope from the world nowadays. After so many authors telling me what is wrong with the world and humanity, it warmed my heart to read something that told what was beautiful about humanity. In a world where nations and society are constantly looking inwards, America for Beginners shines a bright light on the idea that the borders that divide us are just lines in the sand. Only if we look up and across the line at another human being rather than looking down and staying behind, can we learn to love others which then helps us love ourselves.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Faith

    Recently widowed Pival Sengupta is 60 and has never left Kolkata. Her late husband Ram had told her that their son Rahi died in Los Angeles but Pavil never really accepted the news and now she is planning her first trip ever to find out the truth for herself. Rosni (Ronnie) Munshi owns a travel agency in New York that books tours for Indian and Pakistani tourists. He is from Bangladesh, a fact that he tries to hide from his clients. Pavil pays for a two week tour of America and requests both a p Recently widowed Pival Sengupta is 60 and has never left Kolkata. Her late husband Ram had told her that their son Rahi died in Los Angeles but Pavil never really accepted the news and now she is planning her first trip ever to find out the truth for herself. Rosni (Ronnie) Munshi owns a travel agency in New York that books tours for Indian and Pakistani tourists. He is from Bangladesh, a fact that he tries to hide from his clients. Pavil pays for a two week tour of America and requests both a personal guide and, since she cannot travel alone with a man, a female companion. Ronnie assigns the inexperienced Satya Roy to be Pavil's guide and manages to find an American actress, Rebecca Elliot, to act as companion. The book covers their tour through Manhattan, Niagara Falls, the Corning Museum of Glass, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and finally Los Angeles. There are also chapters describing Rahi's life as a student in America. It is not the life his parents had anticipated. Rebecca is an employee but doesn't view herself as Pavil's servant and freely expresses her opinions and asks questions in a way that is foreign to Pavil and Satya. "Satya, however, seemed to view women as an alien species. Would he last two weeks traveling with two such creatures? He would have to." Pavil had been dominated by Ram and intimidated by their judgmental servants who were not on her side. Now on tour "She felt a surge of love and gratitude for Ram. After all, he had had the kindness to die." Over the course of the two weeks, Pavil, Satya and Rebecca face their own insecurities, misconceptions and prejudices. They share lots of bad Indian food and a few good tacos as they slowly get to know each other and Pavil learns to assert herself in ways she could not have imagined. I found all of the characters completely believable and charming. I would love to know what happens to Pavil, Satya, Rebecca and Ronnie after the book ends. The book was insightful, amusing, touching and really delightful. It was impressive from a new author and I would be happy to read more by her. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

  4. 3 out of 5

    Celia

    America for Beginners is the first novel written by Leah Franqui. It has many fine points, but also some disappointments along the way. The book is billed as a travel story where Pival Sangupta, recently widowed, is visiting America from India to find her estranged son. Before we get to traveling, however, the reader has to endure 110 pages of backstory on the many characters who would contribute to this journey. I kept saying ‘enough’, let’s get to the traveling. I did enjoy the tour and how th America for Beginners is the first novel written by Leah Franqui. It has many fine points, but also some disappointments along the way. The book is billed as a travel story where Pival Sangupta, recently widowed, is visiting America from India to find her estranged son. Before we get to traveling, however, the reader has to endure 110 pages of backstory on the many characters who would contribute to this journey. I kept saying ‘enough’, let’s get to the traveling. I did enjoy the tour and how the widow interacted with her guide and her traveling companion. The guide, Satya, is a fledgling tour guide; aha, America for Beginners. The companion, Rebecca, is an out of work actress who hasn’t traveled much beyond NYC; once again America for Beginners. And Pival is the rawest beginner of them all. The book ended well and somewhat erased its bad beginning. I guardedly do recommend it for its few poignant scenes and its ending which summed up everything very satisfactorily.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carole

    What a curious and complex cast of characters Leah Frangui created for her debut novel. A wealthy but naive widow from Kolkata with a Bangladeshi immigrant posing as an Indian tour guide and a feisty down-and-out actress as companion lead the troupe in their (and the reader's vicarious) journey across the USA. Add to these the voices of the vividly drawn supporting characters and there emerges a narrative that is compelling in its humor and its pathos. At some scenes I laughed out loud; at other What a curious and complex cast of characters Leah Frangui created for her debut novel. A wealthy but naive widow from Kolkata with a Bangladeshi immigrant posing as an Indian tour guide and a feisty down-and-out actress as companion lead the troupe in their (and the reader's vicarious) journey across the USA. Add to these the voices of the vividly drawn supporting characters and there emerges a narrative that is compelling in its humor and its pathos. At some scenes I laughed out loud; at others, I wept. The characters, flawed as they are, ring true in their grief, guilt, and prejudices, and in their quests for acceptance, forgiveness, and a small slice of American freedom. Are the loose ends at the novel's finish too nearly tied up? Perhaps. But the lasting impressions for this reader were of joy and hope.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Allie

    I gave this book my sincere attention for around 30 pages before it started losing my interest. It was at this point that I realized why, after a while, the pages started feeling so laborious to get through. The summary, which describes the story as being about a woman traveling across America? It takes a third of the book for Pival to even get there (that's around 100 pages). Apparently it was very important that the story switch POV between 5 different characters and that you know their backst I gave this book my sincere attention for around 30 pages before it started losing my interest. It was at this point that I realized why, after a while, the pages started feeling so laborious to get through. The summary, which describes the story as being about a woman traveling across America? It takes a third of the book for Pival to even get there (that's around 100 pages). Apparently it was very important that the story switch POV between 5 different characters and that you know their backstories before they get properly involved in the plot, rather than let you naturally learn about them along the way. This sort of "development" almost always inevitably leads to characters that feel lifeless and unrelatable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Julia Kardon

    Pival Sengupta has never left Kolkata when she books a trip to America with an Indian travel company, but nothing in this road trip novel is exactly what it seems. Starting with the trip, which has a Bangladeshi, not Indian guide, and a female chaperone who is a young American actress. But also Pival, who is not on the trip to see America, but is hoping to find her son, who might be dead and whom the family cut off after he came out as gay. This novel has so much empathy for all of its character Pival Sengupta has never left Kolkata when she books a trip to America with an Indian travel company, but nothing in this road trip novel is exactly what it seems. Starting with the trip, which has a Bangladeshi, not Indian guide, and a female chaperone who is a young American actress. But also Pival, who is not on the trip to see America, but is hoping to find her son, who might be dead and whom the family cut off after he came out as gay. This novel has so much empathy for all of its characters that it's impossible not to be moved by these people figuring out who they are and what America means, looking at their own biases and assumptions and trying to learn how to see things through new eyes. It's the perfect antidote to Trumptime and I was so desperate to know how it ended that I almost cheated and skipped ahead. A perfect book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kate Olson

    Thanks to William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for this free review copy! . What a heartwarming and eye opening view of the US from an foreigner's perspective ~ I learned so much about my own country during the course of this novel, as well as about India and Bangladesh. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS brings us an Indian widow learning to be alone and coming to terms with her son's sexuality and her own former classist/homophobic beliefs, all during a whirlwind trip across the US with a motley pair of traveli Thanks to William Morrow and TLC Book Tours for this free review copy! . What a heartwarming and eye opening view of the US from an foreigner's perspective ~ I learned so much about my own country during the course of this novel, as well as about India and Bangladesh. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS brings us an Indian widow learning to be alone and coming to terms with her son's sexuality and her own former classist/homophobic beliefs, all during a whirlwind trip across the US with a motley pair of traveling companions. I loved this book and learned from this book, and am blown away by the fact that although the author does now live in Kolkata with her Mumbai-born husband, she herself is not Indian. I'm fascinated with how much research she must have had to do to write so convincingly from a cultural and racial viewpoint not her own. . If you are looking for a story of motherhood, culture, and belonging and learning to live again, definitely add this to your TBR!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mansi Kabra

    I don't write reviews so a book has to be very special for me to write something more than few words and most of this is blabber and most of the times i give authors benefit of doubt that may be they didn't want to portray whatever they portrayed in such a way but I guess this time I am not doing any such thing. Everything wrong with America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. (Yes I am writing all the wrongs, as many people have already written about what they liked about this book so I am not spendin I don't write reviews so a book has to be very special for me to write something more than few words and most of this is blabber and most of the times i give authors benefit of doubt that may be they didn't want to portray whatever they portrayed in such a way but I guess this time I am not doing any such thing. Everything wrong with America for Beginners by Leah Franqui. (Yes I am writing all the wrongs, as many people have already written about what they liked about this book so I am not spending my time on that) When I saw the cover of the Book on HarperCollins India' instagram page, I got excited because it had a saree clad women and a white women and a dark skinned men with the logo of Las Vegas and the title in the middle, America for Beginners. I quickly looked it up on Goodreads and then ordered it. Because it had some of my of my favourite things such as an Indian link in America and a road trip. It reminded me so much of Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee's work. As the days passed, I grew more and more impatient and when I finally got my hands on books, I started reading it without wasting much time. Throughout the book I felt that the author doesn't know much about India, Indian woman or Bangladesh and after quick research I was right. She didn't. She's a Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia Native. Her closest link to India is her Kolkata born husband and now they reside in Mumbai, India. This link if not much but enough to give her insight into the Indian Culture. The book pressed on issues which she shouldn't have dwelled on and pressed on things which didn't need much pressing. How and Indian women left her home to go on a journey is a big deal but I feel that somehow we didn't get more into that. Indian woman don't say much in front of their husbands but they are not at all meek. Pival was shown as this women who couldn't say much and had to take help of a coach? WHAT? That might be an isolated issue but Franqui has shown Indian Women in such a bad light that I am personally offended. Another thing which I found to be a bit wrong was how Pival treated or at least thought about her maids and servants and in general, her help. I can from personal experience of my mother and aunts say that there is nothing more Indian Woman love than their maids. Another thing. Everyone loves Western Culture. It's better, freer, cleaner but I felt that the author constantly undermined India and Bangladesh on various occassions. Like Pival exclaimed on various occasions how America is so clean. Of course the question would arise if India is not so clean? My yes, nooo. It stinks. It is dirty. So dirty. How can Pival answer such questions when we are told by the author herself that she has never travelled for more than 5 blocks radius from her house in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. When Pival exclaims how free America is, how would she know because she has never been outside of KOLKATA. neither does she have ANY friends. How would she know? The author does such an amazing job of portraying India as a backward country that if I didn't live in India myself, I would also believe her judging by the base of her audience which is mostly american and foreigners I am guessing. This is 21st century, India has gotten so advanced in the past few years but how would anybody know since all everybody do these days is judge without ever knowing or seeing for themselves. Another problem is, the author considers herself an ally of LGBTQ community writing about them. According to her and through one of the main characters, Rebecca, we are shown how America is so liberal as compared to well India. Even without comparing it outright to India, we form parallels in our mind. The LGBTQ issue is being taken very seriously in India as well through so many rallies and awareness programs which I know of personally being from India myself. It is still a taboo but things are changing. But no. The author showed the Indian Parents in such a harsh light. Was there ever a discussion between Rahi and his parents? Well we will never know because the author thought that we should know more about the glass museum. The author demeans India and Indian people through her writing. The author shows Ram Sengupta, Pival Sengupta's husband as this monster who can't understand any emotions. May be he was but care to explain may be a little how he got it this way? may be that's how Indian husbands are. Right? Now Bangladesh and Satya and Ronnie. Bangladesh is this poor land with nothing good and nice. Right? Just East Pakistan now a poor dead country with refugees. May be they have tree plantation and Jute. Right? No? Everybody is hunger stricken and poor there who drink their lives away and just want to go to America because it is Land of big dreams. Right? Why don't you explain American racism further, Miss Franqui? And as much as the author tried to explain the difference between Bangladesh and Bengali, she just couldn't. One is a country (Bangladesh) and one is a state in India (West Bengal) with Kolkata as it's capital. Both share the border. Now was it so difficult? She could have explained it deeper. But noooo. This book is just a bunch of stereotype. Satya eats so much.gobble gobble gobble. May be because he didn't have much to eat growing up in his poverty stricken state. And sucide. Seriously? So if Pival doesn't meet his son, she'll just drown herself? or may be slit he vein or something? Do you know how much courage (yes, I said courage) it needs to take your own life. God this book is such a big wannabe. I can write so much about what is wrong with this book because everything is. EVERYTHING. I hope the author who thanked so many editors in the acknowledgement section of this book, does a little journey before writing about a country which is not of her origin, about people of different races she doesn't know personally and keeps all of it in her mind because I cannot take a disaster like this again. In a country like America where appropriation is talked about so much, how did the author write this masterpiece?

  10. 3 out of 5

    Carly

    The synopsis of this novel immediately pulled me in. It took me a while to finish, and at times I found my thoughts wandering, but I absolutely loved reading it. America for Beginners follows the lives of three diverse strangers who find themselves bound together. Pival is a recent widow who plans to visit the US with an Indian tour company. She is not just hoping to see the sights, but also discover the whereabouts of her estranged son. Satya is hired as her tour guide. He comes from Bangladesh The synopsis of this novel immediately pulled me in. It took me a while to finish, and at times I found my thoughts wandering, but I absolutely loved reading it. America for Beginners follows the lives of three diverse strangers who find themselves bound together. Pival is a recent widow who plans to visit the US with an Indian tour company. She is not just hoping to see the sights, but also discover the whereabouts of her estranged son. Satya is hired as her tour guide. He comes from Bangladesh and has only been in the US for a year. He is struggling to find a stable income and make ends meet. Pival requests to also have a female companion for her comfort and security. Rebecca is hired, a struggling actress who is also having a hard time finding jobs. As they travel across the US, they entire into a friendship and come to deeply care for each other. One of my favorite parts of the novel was the character development of each of those unique individuals. They start out with many cultural misconceptions and judgement, but learn to overlook their differences and understand each other. Franqui introduces many cultures and the different values we each have. The characters each learn what America means to them and that they do not need to fit in if they do not wish to do so. I came to greatly care for each of these characters and felt as though I had really gotten to know them. This is a wonderful novel for anyone who has felt a little lost or wants to see their world from someone else's eyes.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    Stirring and touching, “America for Beginners” which I won through Goodreads Giveaways begins when recently widowed Pival Sengupta a Bengali woman who has never travelled outside her home in Kolkata takes a cross-country tour from New York City to California with her guide Satya Roy and female chaperone Rebecca Eliot. On a trip where she’s determined to find out whether her beloved son Rahi who was ostracized by his father after declaring he was gay is alive or dead, and to end her life, Pival u Stirring and touching, “America for Beginners” which I won through Goodreads Giveaways begins when recently widowed Pival Sengupta a Bengali woman who has never travelled outside her home in Kolkata takes a cross-country tour from New York City to California with her guide Satya Roy and female chaperone Rebecca Eliot. On a trip where she’s determined to find out whether her beloved son Rahi who was ostracized by his father after declaring he was gay is alive or dead, and to end her life, Pival unwittingly becomes enmeshed in the emotional upheaval of her two companions; one a Bangladeshi immigrant struggling to find a place in his new country, and the other a promiscuous unemployed actress who feels like a failure. Well-written and compelling Pival and her companions explore America each armed with their own preconceived ideas and biases. Woven into the challenges of the cities, sights and food they explore, Leah Frangui brings to life experiences in their past that have moulded their perceptions of their environment as well as giving glimpses into their pain, frustration, heartache and grief in their search for acceptance, redemption, hope and happiness. Emotionally-charged and intense, the author skillfully weaves in a love affair that resonates with the upbringing in two environments; one ruled by fear and disappointment ingrained from rigid structures of duty and the crushing weight of family opinions that Bhim (Rahi) grew up in contrasted against the freedom in America that has given Jake self-awareness and confidence. Smoothly and quickly as tensions mount with the meeting between Jake and Pival the story progresses to a fascinating climax. Bringing the story to life are complex and realistic characters with all their weaknesses and strengths like Pival Sengupta the widow of Ram, a controlling, judgemental and manipulative husband who was contained, appropriate and often cruel. A smart, lively, spirited young woman before she married, over the years Pival has adapted becoming insecure, meek and lonely; succumbing to the wishes of her husband and ruled even by the household maids who supposedly make her life comfortable. Satya Roy the young tour guide from Bangladesh impoverished and hungry in his country, leaves after his grandmother dies, hoping to find freedom and prosperity in America. Although feeling worthless after his betrayal of a friend, in his new job he’s quick-witted, respectful and eager to please. In contrast well-bred, educated, and self-confident Rebecca Eliot burns bright, wanting all that life has to offer but feeling like a failure when her dreams of an acting career haven’t gelled. Yet the only daughter in a loving, academic Jewish family, she’s kind, responsible, cheerful and competent, although often impulsive. I thoroughly enjoyed “America for Beginners” and highly recommend it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vivek Tejuja

    Now, I have read a lot of books about immigrants and their lifestyles and what happens when you move countries or come to America, as they say. But this is not a story of an immigrant. In fact, it is just a story of a mother who has to come to terms with her son’s sexual preference and lifestyle, after his death. This struck a chord. It hit home and stayed there for a while. I was constantly thinking of my mother and what was she going through when I came out to her and could relate her thoughts Now, I have read a lot of books about immigrants and their lifestyles and what happens when you move countries or come to America, as they say. But this is not a story of an immigrant. In fact, it is just a story of a mother who has to come to terms with her son’s sexual preference and lifestyle, after his death. This struck a chord. It hit home and stayed there for a while. I was constantly thinking of my mother and what was she going through when I came out to her and could relate her thoughts and emotions to that of Pival’s. But “America for Beginners” is not just Pival’s story. It is the story of Pival, Satya and Rebecca – each trying to find something or the other – some big meaning in their lives and happen to do it together. “America for Beginners” is not sentimental. It is for sure an emotional piece of work. It is also compassionate and funny where it needs to be and that is also something I found extremely liberating about the writing. It doesn’t get bogged down by the intensity of the story. Franqui finds humour where she can. A Bengali widow Pival comes to the US of A, to know more about her son Rahi, after a year of his coming out, and in the wake of his death. She has never travelled alone and all she wants is to fit the missing pieces of her son’s life – the son she never knew, also through his partner Jake (you will get to read more about him. Not saying a word for now). Here but obviously she meets Satya, a guide who has never left the five boroughs – an immigrant who doesn’t have a clue where life is headed. Then there is Rebecca – an aspiring young actress with demons of her own to tackle. These three are headed for a road-trip (that again makes it all the more fun) they will remember forever. This has all the makings of a movie. In fact, I think it is also written to be made into a film. Having said that, I for one did not get bored or did not face a reading slump at all when reading this book. There are also some stereotypes the book is ridden with, and yet I did not have a problem with that as well. There are perspectives, lives, emotions and how we deal with each other as human beings which is most important – than just being a mother, friend, or son.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lopa

    When I saw this book featured on Goodreads and read the summary, I thought I would enjoy the book. As I read the first few chapters and realized that one of the main characters is a Hindu Bangladeshi Bengali from Sylhet, like myself, I was even more excited to keep reading. I’ve never read a book that had such a character. Usually a book has a Bangladeshi character, they are Muslim since the country’s population is 90% Muslim. But as I kept reading, it was obvious that the author has no idea abo When I saw this book featured on Goodreads and read the summary, I thought I would enjoy the book. As I read the first few chapters and realized that one of the main characters is a Hindu Bangladeshi Bengali from Sylhet, like myself, I was even more excited to keep reading. I’ve never read a book that had such a character. Usually a book has a Bangladeshi character, they are Muslim since the country’s population is 90% Muslim. But as I kept reading, it was obvious that the author has no idea about what Bengali means or what relationships are like between a Bangladeshi Bengali and a Bengali from West Bengal in India. I found the way Bangladeshi were portrayed and described (of course they were the “dark skinned” ones) did not follow reality at all. Not to mention the behavior of the two South Asian characters seemed like something straight out of a 1970s Bollywood movie. I think if the author were ever to meet a Bengali from Bangladesh or a widow from Kolkata, she’d be shocked to see how different they are from her preconceived notions of them. I was curious about the ending but once I found out about Rahi, I was done. The book was about 4 chapters longer than it needed to be as well. If you want a good story to learn about Bengalis, both Bangladesh’s and West Bengal’s, I recommend reading Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winning book of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. I don’t mind people of other cultures writing about my own, but I would hope that when they do, they actually do research and learn about it instead of writing like this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Detlor

    America for Beginners is, quite simply, the most beautiful work of fiction I have read in years. In a story rich with character and charm, Leah Franqui, has more than delivered in this debut work. While there are numerous characters who’s stories weave life into this story, the focus falls on five lives, stemming from vastly different worlds, and each is somewhat lost; until their lives intersect. Each one having something to teach and much to learn. For most of the story we travel across America America for Beginners is, quite simply, the most beautiful work of fiction I have read in years. In a story rich with character and charm, Leah Franqui, has more than delivered in this debut work. While there are numerous characters who’s stories weave life into this story, the focus falls on five lives, stemming from vastly different worlds, and each is somewhat lost; until their lives intersect. Each one having something to teach and much to learn. For most of the story we travel across America with three strangers who have come together out of necessity, only. Each of them is running from suffocation, shame, or fear in their lives; until, without realizing, they all start running towards something more. The two week journey has a profound effect on the course of their futures, and the future of another who is quietly battling his own desolation, unaware that he is about to be pulled back into the land of the living, whether he wants it or not. Most of us have found ourselves feeling lost, heartbroken, stuck, or the outsider at one time or another. In these times, observing someone else who is struggling can bring clarity to our own situations. Often, when we’ve decided we have our path sorted out and our decisions finalized, the universe subtly reminds us not to be too hasty; it shows us possibilities we never considered, if we are willing to... ... http://www.thethoughtvox.com/?p=9902 for entire review. Thanks to William Morrow and HarperCollins for an ARC! This

  15. 3 out of 5

    Heather

    Amazing book - I didn't want to put it down! This book demonstrates the cultural differences between countries (in this case India and the USA) and how accepting that every individual has their own views. Pival, an Indian widow, sets out on a trip to the USA to find the truth of her son, Rahi/Bhim, who had left years before for the States and who was cut off from his family for coming out to his father. At the same time, Rebecca, an American who is hired to be a companion for Pival, is classhing Amazing book - I didn't want to put it down! This book demonstrates the cultural differences between countries (in this case India and the USA) and how accepting that every individual has their own views. Pival, an Indian widow, sets out on a trip to the USA to find the truth of her son, Rahi/Bhim, who had left years before for the States and who was cut off from his family for coming out to his father. At the same time, Rebecca, an American who is hired to be a companion for Pival, is classhing with her parents over her chosen path in life. While things may be culturally different, parents always still want the best for their children, or what they perceive to be the best.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia

    What an appealing book. Three unique and sympathetic characters take a trip across America with multicultural confusions and prejudices that are slowly overcome by compassion and friendship. A pleasure to read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    There is nothing more exciting than reading a debut novel and falling in love with the story and characters. That just happened for me with Leah Franqui's America For Beginners. We begin with Mrs. Pival Sengupta, a recent Bangladeshi widow, planning a trip to America. We learn that Pival had an unhappy marriage to a man who verballly abused her, and banished their only son Rahi for a reason we come to learn later. Pival is "going to America to find her son or his lover. And to kill herself." Pival There is nothing more exciting than reading a debut novel and falling in love with the story and characters. That just happened for me with Leah Franqui's America For Beginners. We begin with Mrs. Pival Sengupta, a recent Bangladeshi widow, planning a trip to America. We learn that Pival had an unhappy marriage to a man who verballly abused her, and banished their only son Rahi for a reason we come to learn later. Pival is "going to America to find her son or his lover. And to kill herself." Pival has contacted Ronnie Munshi of the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company to arrange for her visit. Ronnie is an Indian immigrant who worked his way up from dishwasher to owning his own tour company, catering to wealthy Bangladeshis. Ronnie has hired Satya, a poor young Bengali man pretending to be Bangladeshi, to act as Pival's guide. This will be Satya's first cross-country trip, and he is extremely nervous. Ronnie also hired an American woman, Rebecca, a young struggling actress who sees this job as a way to earn some money quickly to help her achieve her dream which is slowly becoming out-of-reach, to act as Pival's chaperone. Each of the above characters narrate chapters of this fantastic road trip story, alternating with Jake and Bhim's story. Californian Jake has fallen in love with Bhim, a young Indian scientist, who is reluctant to admit his love for Jake. Bhim tells Jake that in his home country it is not as acceptable to be gay as it is in America. We travel America, stopping first in New York City, then on to Niagara Falls, Corning, New York to see the glass factory, Philadelphia, Washington DC, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas and finally Los Angeles. As Pival, Satya and Rebecca traverse the country, staying in Comfort Inns and eating in inauthentic Indian restaurants, we visit famous American sights like The Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls, The Liberty Bell, The Lincoln Memorial, and get to know Pival, Satya and Rebecca a little bit better. I loved this book. Franqui does an amazing job of giving each character room to breathe and tell his or her own story, and each story is more compelling than the next. But I felt closest to Pival, perhaps because we are both mothers of sons, but what a strong woman she is. She spent much of her life catered to and sheltered, never traveling far from home. Watching her open up was a privilege. Franqui writes so beautifully too. "As Tanvi grew upset, her folding became increasingly precise and perfect, until you could have cut onions with the razor-sharp corners of the sari silk." And this: "She had thought Ram would be the antidote to the loneliness and longing she had begun to feel. Instead, he became the cause of both." I confess to reading the last few chapters through tears. Pival's story was so emotional and beautiful, and yes, sad. America For Beginners takes us on a road trip across the country, and on the trip that Ronnie, Satya, and Rebecca each take to get their share of the American dream that so many people long for and work to achieve. I highly recommend America For Beginners, and look forward to more from Leah Franqui.

  18. 4 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    This is a feel-good, totally heart-warming, smiling inducing read and I gobbled it all up! In America for Beginners we meet Pival Sengupta who is from India. She recently lost her husband. She decided to do something that is totally outside of her comfort zone- that is, book a trip to the USA to do a cross-country tour. Pival hopes to find out the truth about her son, Rahi who was banished from her home after her husband Ram, found out he was gay. Pival books her cross-country tour through a to This is a feel-good, totally heart-warming, smiling inducing read and I gobbled it all up! In America for Beginners we meet Pival Sengupta who is from India. She recently lost her husband. She decided to do something that is totally outside of her comfort zone- that is, book a trip to the USA to do a cross-country tour. Pival hopes to find out the truth about her son, Rahi who was banished from her home after her husband Ram, found out he was gay. Pival books her cross-country tour through a tour operator- Ronnie Munshi. Ronnie is who I could call the ultimate hustler. He is a migrant who works hard at the American dream. He facilitates the tour by offering Satya as the tour guide and Rebecca as Pival tour companion, for modesty reasons of course. The unlikely trio- Pival, Sayta and Rebecca will embark on a two week cross-country tour seeing most of America and experiencing life in a way they never thought possible. The book starts out a bit slow but really gets going once Pival lands in the US. I absolutely loved how amusing and hilarious the characters were. Franqui did an amazing job of bringing the characters in this book to life and I think that's one of the things I loved most about this book. I love experiencing a new country through the eyes of a tourist and this book does a great job of doing this. A heart-warming summery read!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    People kept telling me how much they loved, loved, loved this novel. And I completely understand why because I also loved, loved, loved this novel. It shifts perspectives, but in such a way that I was never disappointed one chapter was ending and another was beginning because I was deeply invested in every single story. Each character was so well-developed and lovable and flawed. I'm always a sucker for novels that explore America geographically and emotionally. It's a feel-good novel, but it hits People kept telling me how much they loved, loved, loved this novel. And I completely understand why because I also loved, loved, loved this novel. It shifts perspectives, but in such a way that I was never disappointed one chapter was ending and another was beginning because I was deeply invested in every single story. Each character was so well-developed and lovable and flawed. I'm always a sucker for novels that explore America geographically and emotionally. It's a feel-good novel, but it hits on some heavy topics and gave me a lot to think about.

  20. 3 out of 5

    Marissa

    Goodreads Advance Reader's Edition A widow travels to America to find closure after her husband dies. She comes to America to find her son who died months before. She hires a tour guide and a companion to buy time as a ruse. It is more than a journey as it weaves the interactions of different cultures and even what we perceive as the same cultures has their own biases and beliefs

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stacey A. Prose and Palate

    "I don't want to talk about my father," Bhim said, gently, to diffuse the sting. Jake thought for a moment. "What about your mother then?" Bhim smiles, a smile Jake had never seen before. It was a gentle spreading of his lips, soft and smooth. His face suffused with light, like he was thinking of something wonderful. "My mother is the reason that I love you," Bhim said simply. "She is the reason that I know what love is." My heart, ya'll. I loved this tender, beautiful book so much. America for B "I don't want to talk about my father," Bhim said, gently, to diffuse the sting. Jake thought for a moment. "What about your mother then?" Bhim smiles, a smile Jake had never seen before. It was a gentle spreading of his lips, soft and smooth. His face suffused with light, like he was thinking of something wonderful. "My mother is the reason that I love you," Bhim said simply. "She is the reason that I know what love is." My heart, ya'll. I loved this tender, beautiful book so much. America for Beginners is a story of family, friendship and of feeling lost in the world and just wanting to find your way. It's about understanding and empathy, about being true to who you are no matter what the cost and it is also about seeking out answers, even if they do not give you the outcome you are hoping for. The book opens with Pival, an older, wealthy, Indian woman who has recently been widowed and is now trying to figure out how she wants to move forward with the rest of her life. Her heart aches for her only son Rahi, who she has not seen in years since her husband banished him from their home when he came out. Pival's husband claimed that Rahi had died, but she knows that he actually moved to the USA. Determined to make amends with the son she has never stopped loving, Pival pushes out of her comfort zone and signs up for a guided tour across America in the hopes of being reunited with her son. I loved the characters in this story so much and I cheered for Pival the entire time -- holding out hope for her that Rahi was indeed still alive and that she could once again look upon the face of her beloved boy. I really enjoyed reading how the author challenged each character as to the stereotypes that they held about others and their perceptions of the world around them. Watching the growth of Pival and her traveling companions over the course of their two week tour was completely engrossing, and huge kudos to Leah Franqui for expertly weaving some incredibly tough topics in to the narrative (cultural appropriation, religious views on homosexuality, racism) while still maintaining a theme of hope throughout. I am blown away that this a debut novel and if this one is not on your TBR already, you need to remedy that ASAP. Huge thanks to William Morrow books for introducing me to this incredibly touching work.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Betty

    If you enjoyed Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A PLACE FOR US, I highly recommend AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS. Three misfits set out on a journey across America, a journey of evolution, and are changed forever. Pival Sengupta, a newly widowed Indian woman, has booked a trip to America. Her servants are outraged! A woman just does not do this alone. But Pival is not going to see the sights of America. Instead, she is hoping to find her son whom her husband has told her is dead. After moving to America, Rahi revea If you enjoyed Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A PLACE FOR US, I highly recommend AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS. Three misfits set out on a journey across America, a journey of evolution, and are changed forever. Pival Sengupta, a newly widowed Indian woman, has booked a trip to America. Her servants are outraged! A woman just does not do this alone. But Pival is not going to see the sights of America. Instead, she is hoping to find her son whom her husband has told her is dead. After moving to America, Rahi revealed to his father Ram that he was gay and was immediately disowned. Then one night Ram took a call and told Pival it was from their son’s lover in America and that Rahi had died. On her trip to America she wants to see what Rahi had possibly seen in America, perhaps walk where he walked before he died. But did he die? She wonders if her husband lied to her. She has had her doubts since the death was so sudden and there was no body returned to India. She is determined to find out the truth. The characters in this story are each unique and all are engaging. From Mrs. Sengupta who is naïve about so much but determined in her mission, to Mr. Munshi, the hard-working Bangladeshi tour company owner who tries to pass himself off as Indian. The description of him that quickly comes to mind is a “snake oil salesman”. One has to wonder how his business remains open given his naivety. Pival’s guide is Satya who has only been in the US for a year and never outside New York City. He is sweet, extremely naïve, and always ravenously hungry. For reasons of modesty, Pival needs a female companion so Mr. Munshi hires Rebecca, an aspiring actress. This two-week tour being a companion sounds like a working vacation to her so she is thrilled to get the job. As Pival, Rebecca, and Satya make their way across the country they are challenged by their cultural and generational differences. But they begin to evolve in their own self-growth and learn to see the world through someone else’s eyes. They learn to appreciate the qualities the others have to offer. Barriers come down, animosities are forgotten, and true bonds are formed. There is humor, heartbreak, forgiveness, and acceptance. This story isn’t about where they travel but rather the voyage itself. I received an advance reading copy from William Morrow Books. This review is entirely my opinion.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Shanti

    This is, quite possibly, the best book I have read this year. It is about the many forms of loneliness. It is about things which hurt. It is about forgiving people. It is about being a stranger in a strange land, and being a stranger in a familiar land, and what to do when you are both at once. It is about characters who ask questions which hurt. Pival is asking: Who am I when I am without the context of my family and my home? Rachel is asking: Who am I if I am not what I have always dreamed of b This is, quite possibly, the best book I have read this year. It is about the many forms of loneliness. It is about things which hurt. It is about forgiving people. It is about being a stranger in a strange land, and being a stranger in a familiar land, and what to do when you are both at once. It is about characters who ask questions which hurt. Pival is asking: Who am I when I am without the context of my family and my home? Rachel is asking: Who am I if I am not what I have always dreamed of becoming? Satya is asking: Who am I as I become a person my friends would not recognise? These are all questions of identity, something that the human race is "desperately curious" about when we manage to pay attention to other people in their relentless existence. Identity is something that is fraught for me, as it is to a lesser or greater extent, to all people. I have never been to America; I know it only throught the fragments I have collected from books and movies and friends. But I know India, and I know what it is to belong in India and love it wildly and also be from somewhere else, and find that these facts are, to some extent, irreconcilable. Leah Franqui knows about the layers of identity and belonging too, and manages them magnificently in her novel. I am sick of 'immigrant narrative' stories, written by middle class immigrants from some country that was once a colony, with families that cling hard to tradition because it is all that anchors them in a new land, and children who rebel wildly, wanting to redefine their parent's parameters of success. These novels are important, but America for Beginners is not one of them. For one thing, Pival, the main character, is not an immigrant. She is a visitor. Rebecca is not an immigant either: she has never needed to question her belonging in America. And while Satya is an immigrant, he is not educated (whatever that means), he is not a doctor or lawyer. He has gathered the crumbs that America has left in its greasy corners and hoards them carefully. America for Beginners is not a novel of simplistic identity. I appreciated Franqui's examination of what it means to be Bengali, and how a border has fractured that identity. The interaction of religion worked very well too: Rebecca is Jewish, Pival and Satya are Hindu, but there are Muslims in the story too. The complexities of sexuality, and what Rahi's upbringing did to his understanding of who and how he loved, was painful, but so well done (and I thought that the lens of Jake, his lover, made that so much better). The way that language dictates identity in context, the difference between North Indian and Bengali food: wherever Franqui writes, she adds nuance. I appreciated, for instance, Satya's thought that "Sideways had been the only way to approach anything." when he has washed ashore in the land of the brash and direct, prices, like other things, fixed and inflexible It is exquisite. As someone who has spent most of her life in India, I find that immigrant stories do not satisfy me, because I do not share any of that experience. But this felt like it really reflected my understanding of a country I can sometimes call my own. Leah Franqui is the best kind of writer. She uses frequent figurative language. Her prose is beautiful without being vain, which is honestly so hard to do (it's something I struggle with so much in my own writing!). All of the sentences make sense, the writing is never distracting, but it does evoke that sense of awareness that good writing does, where it makes you want to notice things in new and surprising ways. "Everything was fine, everything was great, everything was so light it could crush you." "Pival wondered if that's how ghosts were made, angry spirits whose bodies had been destroyed by time rather than fire." "The dirty fading glory of Kolkata crumbling under the weight of modern life." Franqui writes gracefully, using third person past tense, the best way to deal with multiple perspectives. The shifting from person to person never feels wrong, which it has in essentially every other novel like this I have read. Only once does she end a chapter with an opening door and an expansive unknown. Usually, I find this a cheap trick; but the use was so restrained as to be all the more compelling for it. The writing has moments of humour, too, like "The man could find rice in a pasta store." It all worked so well for me. I cannot recommend this novel enough, and I could write much more about it, but I have already stayed up late for this book once. I plan to buy it (I got it from the library) and reread it, and cherish it in every way. Being Indian is complex, and so is travelling, and so is death. America for Beginners is a book that deals tragedy as liberally as comedy, and it ended in the best way: with a river as dense as America, characters who were able to move on, but not without me caring a whole lot more in the process of their doing so. [tiny disclaimer: one of the reasons I picked this up is that I had a skype conversation with the author a few years ago for unrelated reasons, and she was amazing to talk to and I thought that she was fantastically cool and kinda #goals to be honest and so smart and funny and I love that she sews her own clothes, so you could say that I'm a bit of a fangirl. But even if you know nothing about Leah Franqui, her writing speaks for itself.]

  24. 3 out of 5

    Neelam Babul

    An extraordinary story about a recently widowed woman, Pival Sengupta who was shadowed by the decisions of her husband forcing her to lose herself bit by bit. After his death she decides to travel to America not letting anyone know that the real intent is to trace her son Rahi who was estranged from her after an argument. During her tour we meet other characters like Satya, Rebecca, Ronnie and Jack who all have their distinct stories and challenges. The story is an intriguing combination of self An extraordinary story about a recently widowed woman, Pival Sengupta who was shadowed by the decisions of her husband forcing her to lose herself bit by bit. After his death she decides to travel to America not letting anyone know that the real intent is to trace her son Rahi who was estranged from her after an argument. During her tour we meet other characters like Satya, Rebecca, Ronnie and Jack who all have their distinct stories and challenges. The story is an intriguing combination of self discovery, identity, tolerance and acceptance of the diversity of the human race. A wonderful debut story indeed.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    I want everyone to read this tale of a widow who travels across the U.S. to find out the truth about what happened to her estranged son.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Marcy

    This was a totally enjoyable and sweetly told story of an unusual road trip that ultimately compares and contrast 2 vastly different cultures. The tone and the humor in this book was a refreshing change from the depressing immigrant stories written of late.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kumari De Silva

    The story premise is sweet, slightly intriguing, but the execution felt hollow. Too much of the book rests in external conflict, and too little in internal conflict. Pival has the external conflict of an over-controlling husband. She misses her only son dearly. Her servants don't take her seriously. Changing the situation, however, seems to require not much besides changing it, i.e. husband dies (not a spoiler, he's dead at the start of the story) and servants can be replaced. What is less caref The story premise is sweet, slightly intriguing, but the execution felt hollow. Too much of the book rests in external conflict, and too little in internal conflict. Pival has the external conflict of an over-controlling husband. She misses her only son dearly. Her servants don't take her seriously. Changing the situation, however, seems to require not much besides changing it, i.e. husband dies (not a spoiler, he's dead at the start of the story) and servants can be replaced. What is less carefully explored are the very real internal conflicts that have created her self-inflicted prison: her lack of confidence caused by ? By what? There is a soft suggestion of duty verses personal desire, but no real narration of what her causes her hesitancy. In effect, she picks up the phone. She plans a trip. It doesn't even sound that hard. Apparently curing her lack of confidence will take nothing beyond - ***hey **wait for it***: actions. I mean, much of the book reads like: this happened, then this happened, then this happened, blah blah blah . I imagine if I were sitting next to the author in a writing short stories class she might argue "But that IS the way it happened!" which while true, doesn't always make for a stupendous book. There are 4 other characters: Jake, Rebecca, Satya and Ronnie, who have separate issues to work out - which are treated in the same flat manner. No one has an internal conflict, everyone has external ones. This work would make a good screen play, because the medium better matches the treatment. The plot itself could be interesting, the characters might be played by attractive actors and the shooting sites would be appealing, but as a book, it's superficial.

  28. 3 out of 5

    Jill

    This is a story of a journey of self-discovery for three people thrown together on a trip across the country. In a way they are all newcomers to America. Pival Sengupta, newly widowed at age 60, is from Kolkata, India. Her young American guide, Satya Roy, was originally from Bangladesh but he is pretending to be from India. Rebecca Eliot, hired as a companion for Pival, is from America but has barely traveled at anywhere. All three of them are looking for a positive change in their lives, which This is a story of a journey of self-discovery for three people thrown together on a trip across the country. In a way they are all newcomers to America. Pival Sengupta, newly widowed at age 60, is from Kolkata, India. Her young American guide, Satya Roy, was originally from Bangladesh but he is pretending to be from India. Rebecca Eliot, hired as a companion for Pival, is from America but has barely traveled at anywhere. All three of them are looking for a positive change in their lives, which so far, have been filled with missteps and disappointments. This sounds predictable, right? One presumes they open up to each other on the road and help each other solve their problems. But surprisingly, this isn’t what happens at all. Their inner journeys remain opaque to one another, even as each of them inadvertently and occasionally teaches a lesson or two to the others. Likewise, the resolution of the story is much different than the boilerplate road story. Evaluation: I enjoyed having my expectations upended. I also appreciated the way cultural expectations and prejudices played so large a part in the story and yet to a large extent no one ever confronted anyone else about it. It was an unexpected and entertaining book. Rating: 3.5/5

  29. 3 out of 5

    Donna Bijas

    4.5 stars for this gem from a first-book author. A story of a widowed Bengali woman planning to travel across the United States with a Bangladeshi man and a young failing American actress. The story of 3 lost souls joining together their faith, their lives and customs. A story of becoming close to those different from one’s self. I loved it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    KC

    After the death of her husband, Kolkata native Pival Sengupta is on a mission to find her son believing he resides in California.. Estranged from his family after coming out to his parents, Rahi heads to the States to study marine biology. Pival embarks on a cross country journey starting in NYC with the assistance of two young chaperones. This heart warming story blends cultural diversities and the pit falls that often accompany them. These three rag tag companions uncover a great deal about ea After the death of her husband, Kolkata native Pival Sengupta is on a mission to find her son believing he resides in California.. Estranged from his family after coming out to his parents, Rahi heads to the States to study marine biology. Pival embarks on a cross country journey starting in NYC with the assistance of two young chaperones. This heart warming story blends cultural diversities and the pit falls that often accompany them. These three rag tag companions uncover a great deal about each other and even more about themselves.

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