Three unrelated people undertake a cross-country tour of the United States together: a widow from India, who keeps her motivation to herself; her tour guide, a young man from Bangladesh; and the widow’s companion, a young aspiring actress. Unexpected relationships develop during the tour, and you can’t help cheering on Mrs. Sengupta, the widow, as she becomes more of a confident and independent woman. I was sad to see this heartwarming story end, even though the ending felt just right. - Stacey
Winter 2019 Reading Group Indie Next List
“I love this book. It turns the table on travel books from the American perspective—we are used to reading about a summer in Provence, trekking in Nepal, etc., but an Indian woman traveling solo in the U.S.? Wonderful! This should be required reading. But it’s not only a travel story, it’s a novel about grief and widowhood. A nice book club selection.”
— Susan Thurin, Bookends On Main, Menomonie, WI
Recalling contemporary classics such as Americanah, Behold the Dreamers, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a funny, poignant, and insightful debut novel that explores the complexities of family, immigration, prejudice, and the American Dream through meaningful and unlikely friendships forged in unusual circumstances.
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 Kolkata 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.
A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren’t always the ones we seek.
About the Author
Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award (aftereverafterwebseries.com). A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai. AMERICA FOR BEGINNERS is her first novel.
“A tender, funny, wrenching, beautifully executed tale of three lost souls who traverse the chasms of cultural, generational, and geographical divides to forge some bonds strong and true enough to withstand life’s gut punches.”
— Library Journal (starred review)
— New York Post
“Complex and well-drawn characters… America for Beginners has something—or someone—for everyone.”
— Washington Times
“The pleasure of this smart, mild-mannered novel is that, through its juxtapositions, the reader, too, begins to see the country afresh.”
— Wall Street Journal
“A satisfying, heartfelt novel… Franqui adroitly balances all the characters, making them distinct and refreshing. Readers will be taken by this emotionally rewarding novel.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Compassionate and funny, America For Beginners delves into the complications of family as three unlikely companions venture across a country that challenges their understanding of themselves. A charming debut by a fresh new voice.”
— Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers
“Franqui deftly juggles her characters’ competing perspectives, mining small moments in the narrative for larger insights into cultural and personal differences… This is a humorous and heartfelt excursion into the promise that America represents, to both natives and immigrants, and an emotional examination of what that promise means in practice
“A heartfelt novel about forgiveness and acceptance.”
— Real Simple
“Compelling… a strong contemporary story about cross-cultural alliances, the bonds of family and what it means to ‘learn America.’”
— USA Today
“It’s everything you would want it to be: funny, heartwarming, sad and illuminating … America for Beginners is absorbing and alive and will make you laugh, cry and think about what it means to belong.”
— Amazon Book Review
“America for Beginners will take you on a truly extraordinary cross-country journey.”
— Hello Giggles
“A funny, feel-good cross-country tale… exactly the kind of story that we could use right now — people of different backgrounds coming together and realizing that they are more similar than assumed.”
— AM New York