It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that taught me hard lessons and made me laugh out loud simultaneously. No One Can Pronounce My Name was written by Indian-American author, Rakesh Satyal, and published May 2017 by Picador. No One’s diverse rang of characters are complex, sexual and humorous; they represent Satyal’s wit and ability to toy with average day-to-day musings. As the title proclaims, I can not pronounce any of the names. For me, it was the spin that connected each narrative, a test that presented itself every time someone new was introduced. I urged myself to “fix my mouth”!
On Indian Culture
Unmistakably, their are several narratives that are sown throughout; what they each have in common is their Indian culture. Harit, who we meet first, is the only Indian who works at his department store and candidly allows the reader to bare witness to his loneliness. Ranjana, my favorite character, was born and raised in India, but has adapted to American life effortlessly. She carries her culture on her back, but we observe her blooming, no longer able to remain closed in a bud. Her evolution is fun and cute, the most intimate of them all. Her husband, Mohan, is the typical machismo who assumes the world revolves around his testicles. If his wife has a job, he is ashamed. So, Ranjana picks up a job at a proctology clinic with Dr. Butt, who is from north India, to teach him a lesson. Their son, Prashant, is the first generation Indian-American who is great at math, likes white girls and doesn’t see the point in joining an Indian group in college because he’s spent plenty of time around Indians. Teddy, the gay white-American character, remains in the backdrop and is credited with introducing Harit to a more adventurous life. When Teddy’s experience is finally revealed, it is like dropping the cherry on top of a large chocolate sundae.
It is through the relationships that Satyal allows investment. Harit, for example, is so traumatized by his sister’s death that he grieves by wearing her clothes around the house — pretending to be her. He lives with his mother and assumes her so feeble that she can’t tell the difference. All of Ranjana’s decisions are themed around her distaste for the relationship she maintains with herself and her family. In this moment, Ranjana shares that “she should have been treating her hair and skin as carefully as if they were children. Now, here she was, a grown woman without the experience of beauty. She had not cultivated beauty, so now she lived without it.” She is often hard on herself and doesn’t give herself the credit she deserves. It is her curiosity that saves her, though. She befriends a young man who introduces her to a dance club commonly known as FB — for Fuck Buddy. Every step she takes is a risk: she joins a writer’s group, she says a curse, she tries drugs and — finally — she buys sexy lingerie to seduce her husband into being softer. In addition, she builds a connection with her son that allowed her to be his friend.
My favorite layer to No One Can Pronounce My Name is the level of funny that indiscreetly appears. They are revealed through the repetition of Dr. Butt’s name and in feeling Ranjana’s shock when she learns what FB stands for. Harit is exposed through his naive way of opening up to the world. Like, for example, when he attempts to reject the salesman position to work in the storage room at the department store.
I had a lot of fun with No One and its themes: awkwardness, a woman who is tired of being shaped by others, a marriage that needed saving and a college kid growing into himself.