The story that tangles together the lives of two women, so different in terms of background and welfare – all in the name of the child that they love, is a skillful social commentary built on masterful observation. Musing on the power of love, the reality of relationships in a community and workplace, and the role of women, it’s a fast-paced, gripping novel that won’t let you leave it once it locks you in.
Soli, an optimistic girl that spent eighteen years of her life in Popocalco in Mexico, dreams of better life. Her village in Oaxaca doesn’t let her fulfil the dream of a “dollar house” for her parents and the bright future she only heard of. That’s why her parents spend everything they have to pay a man to take their only daughter to sunny California. On the road, when she realises that her companion is a crook and wants to use her as a drug mule, she breaks free. Joining a crew of boys who plan to jump on La Bestia, a cargo train to sneak into the US, she doesn’t get her American Dream. She ends up alone and makes it to her cousin’s house – only to find out she’ll give birth to a boy soon. In Berkeley, she camouflages herself as a citizen, but everything slips away and she’s forced to battle for her child, who’s officially American.
We also meet Kavya and Rishi – Indian-American couple. She’s working for a sorority kitchen, he’s working for an emerging startup; their life appears fulfilling to a bystander. However, their life is not complete. They are trying for a baby – and when nothing helps, they try a fostering programme. Two families are soon connected by the titular Lucky Boy to unfold a gripping story of a world in which borders still matter more than an individual’s happiness.
What strikes you straight away in Shanthi Sekaran’s fiction is its attention to detail. Thorough descriptions bring the reader into the middle of each scene right away – and send a shiver down your spine every now and again. The reality of crossing the border, where criminals try to make use of those who are much more innocent, and the truth about the immigrant detention centres with abuse hurled at prisoners on a daily basis and guards taking advantage of their position to reveal the most inhumane of treatments shock you no matter how much you know (or you think you know) about it.
The details don’t slow the story down, however. The pacing will keep you glued onto the pages deep into the late night with its composition and cliffhangers for each of the stories. Third-person narration allows the author to swim deep in the characters’ thoughts, but switching the perspective to keep you wondering and allowing the omniscient narrator to be picky about what they’re about to reveal.
Sekaran starts a subtle discussion about the role of the mother by introducing a handful of women who explain different dimensions of motherhood to the reader. Soli, a young immigrant mother, undergoes a great deal of character development that’s exciting to watch. Kavya is also put to a grand test as a foster mother, both in the adoption trial build-up and in the course of the following events. But we’ve also got Kavya’s mother, bossy but loving, Preeti, a successful career woman, Sylvia – Soli’s cousin and a single mother, and Miss Cassidy who is a partner of a man with government connections. All of them, with their personalities, dreams and mistakes, champion the position of a woman in the modern world.
But we can’t forget about the author’s exhaustive, detailed portrait of a community. Berkeley sets a background for her story with rich, multidimensional characters. Although she introduces her protagonists with wondrous portraits of feelings and emotions, those who surround them are full-bodied, convincing depictions, too. Not only their contribution to the story but also their motives create a diverse picture of a multi-cultural neighbourhood. Meandering between acceptance, empathy, silent intolerance and callousness in private lives topped with the power struggle at work, it delivers a whole spectrum of interesting personalities. Contributing to the complex net of relationships, Sekaran invites us to a place where the everyday life hides the most complicated of stories; all of them indispensably, powerfully current.
Lucky Boy is a powerful, multifaceted story that won’t go away once it locked your heart in. As a social commentary executed with an abundance of characters observed through a careful eye of a skilled writer, it’s the right book for the muddled times. With love that finds its way to building new futures and transforming lives, fighting the cruelty and mercilessness, this novel is a statement that will make you ponder long after you laid your eyes on the last sentence.
Shanthi Sekaran’s book Lucky Boy was published by Putnam (Penguin Random House) on the 12th of January 2017.