“Lucky Boy: A Novel” by Shanthi Sekaran; Putnam; January 2017; 480 pp; $27
By Ann Jonas
For The Visitor
Motherhood is at the center of “Lucky Boy,” the recent novel by Shanthi Sekaran. The book tackles a complicated moral dilemma while featuring a timely storyline and conflicting perspectives.
Sekaran alternates the narratives of two women: an undocumented Mexican and an Indian-American. Their stories will converge as the book progresses, with a little boy as the focal point of this beautifully told tale.
Solimar Castro Valdez (Soli) is 18 years old and somewhat naïve. She has decided to leave her poor village in Mexico because the place holds no future for her; the very poor and very old are the only ones staying there. She is able to obtain false documents and, while on her perilous trek to her cousin’s place in Berkeley, California, she gets pregnant.
When she arrives in Berkeley, her cousin helps her land a job as a house cleaner for a wealthy family. Soli is determined to work hard so she can provide for her baby and send money home to her parents.
Kavya Reddy lives with her husband Rishi in Berkeley. Both Kavya and Rishi are American-born children of Indian immigrants; they are an upper-middle class couple with good careers. When they decide to start a family, they are unable to conceive a child and eventually agree to try adoption.
When Soli gives birth to Ignacio, she nicknames him Nacho and discovers her fierce love for her little boy: “Having a child was like turning inside out and exposing to the world the soft pulp of her heart.” Soli is able to take Nacho with her when she returns to her job, but soon after Nacho turns one, Soli gets in trouble with the law. Nacho is taken from her by social services, and Soli is incarcerated and scheduled for deportation.
Ignacio is put in foster care and soon the Reddys bring him home with hopes to adopt him. The couple grows to love “Iggy,” as they call him; Kavya considers that “it would not have occurred to her that his skin was not her skin.” However, the Reddys are never able to fully shake the fear that Iggy will be taken from them and returned to his birth mother.
The incredible difficulties and heart-wrenching struggles that Soli endures are, at times, hard to read, but certainly give readers some idea as to the experiences of undocumented immigrants. Sekaran did extensive research before writing her novel, including interviews with social workers, foster and adoptive parents along with numerous people in the criminal justice system who work with undocumented immigrants.
“Lucky Boy” is a serious novel, but Sekaran writes with a good deal of humor, especially while describing the Reddys’ struggles with their Indian families’ customs and the couple’s inability to conceive. Sekaran portrays both sides of this drama in a very compassionate way and does not try to sway readers to one side or the other. Readers will sympathize with both parties at various points in the novel. Book clubs will find much to ponder and discuss as well.
“Lucky Boy” is available in bookstores everywhere, including the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University Bookstores.
Ann Jonas is the general book buyer for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.