Anil is the cherished son of a large family in rural India. As the eldest boy, he is expected to inherit the role of leader of his clan and arbiter of its disputes, dispensing wisdom and good advice. Leena is his closest companion, a fiercely brave girl who loves nothing more than the wild terrain where they live and her close-knit family. As childhood friends, they are inseparable – but as adulthood approaches, they grow apart.
Anil is the first person in his family to leave India, the first to attend college, the first to become a doctor. Half a world away in Dallas, Texas, he is caught up in his new life, experiencing all the freedoms and temptations of American culture: he tastes alcohol for the first time, falls in love, and learns firsthand about his adopted country’s alluring, dangerous contradictions. Though his work in a gritty urban hospital is grueling, Anil is determined to carve out his own life in America.
At home, Leena dreams of marriage, a strong and true love like the one shared by her parents, and leaves her beloved home to join her new husband’s family in a distant village.
Then things start to go wrong: Anil makes a medical mistake with tragic results, his first love begins to fray and a devastating event makes him question his worth as a doctor and as a friend.
On a visit home, Anil rekindles a friendship with the woman who seems to understand him better than anyone else. But their relationship is complicated by a fateful decision made years earlier. As the two old friends try to understand their feelings toward each other, they must also finally find a way to balance responsibility with freedom and loyalty with love.
The Golden Son is Shilpi Somaya Gowda's second novel. Her first, The Secret Daughter, released in 2010 to great praise and fabulous reviews. The Golden Son promises to be of the same calibre and is already a bestseller in Canada.
And now for the excerpt:
The Golden Son
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Excerpt from Chapter 1
Long before this day, before he was the first person to leave his village, before he was the first in his family to attend university rather than farm the rice paddies covering their land, Anil was the first son born to his parents.
Jayant and Mina Patel had four more children—Nikhil, Kiran, Piya, and Chandu. Big families were a way of life in their community. The extended clan—still known by the name of Anil’s deceased great-grandfather, “Moti” (big brother) Patel—owned most of the land for more than ten kilometers in all directions from the Big House. Anil was the latest in the line of eldest sons, including Papa and his grandfather before him, and as such, the expectations of him had always been clear. One day, he would inherit his father’s role as leader of the clan, responsible for farm operations, financial support, and presiding over family disputes. As a boy, Anil had followed Papa into the fields each day, learning to cultivate rice from the paddies, harvest it most efficiently, dry it in the sun, and bundle it in jute sacks to take to the market.
Anil learned quickly, as his teachers pointed out when he began attending the local school. He was the first in his class to read, the first to memorize the math tables. Every day, he left school with a stack of books tethered in twine, which he swung between his thumb and forefinger, creating a deep red indentation he took pride in inspecting after the long walk home. After working with Papa in the fields, he read his schoolbooks late into the evening, borrowing the kerosene lantern that sat on the porch outside for nighttime visits to the latrine. Once, when he forgot to replace it before going to sleep, Nikhil tumbled down the front steps and sprained his ankle, but everyone agreed later that the injury had been for a good cause when Anil took top marks in mathematics. As Anil began to excel in his studies, Papa excused him from his farm duties and, by then, his brothers were old enough to compensate for his absence.
Ever since that day Papa returned with Maya from the clinic, he and Anil shared an unspoken understanding that his path would be different. They became conspirators in building Anil into some- one who could venture beyond Panchanagar and its limited offerings. Anil pored over his science books, studying the human-anatomy figures depicted in them until he could name every organ, muscle, and bone. After he outgrew the resources at school, he sent away for science magazines and ordered the Atlas of Human Anatomy from Jaypee Brothers in Delhi. Whenever Chakroo, the family dog who slept and roamed outside, returned with a dead mouse or rabbit, Anil sat on the porch and carefully cut it open with the smallest knife he could pilfer from the kitchen while the cook napped. By age twelve, he’d given up countless cricket games after school, and lazy summer days. There in the village of Panchanagar, after generations of farmers, surrounded by nothing but agricultural fields, Anil prepared to one day become a doctor.
Only after he arrived at medical college in Ahmadabad did Anil understand the significance of this feat. His fellow students, from wealthy families in the cities, had been professionally tutored for years: their schools had biology labs with dissection specimens, they had shadowed their parents’ doctor friends in the hospital. All they saw in Anil was a village boy, making him acutely aware of his lack of sophistication in everything from computers to popular music. Anil kept to himself and spent all his time studying, eager to prove himself as capable as his classmates.
The Golden Son is out now from William Morrow.