Mira Jacob is no newcomer to the literary scene, having spent over a decade hosting the premier Pete’s Reading Series in Brooklyn and writing for various media outlets. But The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing marks her first foray into fiction, and this is one debut novel that is not to be missed. Jacob takes readers on a journey across two continents and three decades in this poignant tale of a family in crisis.
Amina Eapen is a 30-year-old wedding photographer living in Seattle. Once a budding photojournalist, she has given up her promising career after her photo of Native American activist Bobby McLeod jumping off a bridge to his death brings to the surface memories from her past. When Amina receives a phone call from her mother, Kamala, informing her that her father, brain surgeon Thomas Eapen, is acting strangely and has taken to talking to the dead, she returns home to Albuquerque to see for herself.
What Amina discovers is a situation much more complicated than she could have imagined, and one that requires her to face once more the painful demons of her past. As the novel moves back and forth across time and space, from India in the 1970s to Albuquerque and Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s, Jacob weaves a tale about the immigrant experience and familial ties that bind and those that break.
What is intended as a short visit to her childhood home in New Mexico turns into an extended trip as the Eapens learn the true reason behind Thomas’ strange behavior. As the family struggles to come to terms with his terminal diagnosis, Amina is forced to confront the ghosts that haunt them all, from that of her brother Akhil to those of her grandmother and uncle Sunil in India.
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an impressive debut novel by an extremely talented writer. Despite its length — it clocks in at just around 500 pages — The Sleepwalker’s Guide is a thoroughly engaging read that grips the reader from start to finish.
Reminiscent at times of Jhumpa Lahiri's in its deft portrayal of the Indian-American experience, this is a book that truly captures, in the author’s own words, “what it means, as an immigrant, to make a life in a stolen country.”
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is all about assimilation and the immigrant experience, so I whipped up a macaroni and cheese with an Indian flair. With its combination of classic ingredients and Indian spices, this fusion dish is sure to be a favorite with the younger Eapens.
INDIAN-STYLE MAC AND CHEESE
- 1 cup dried elbow macaroni
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon cumin powder
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon garam masala powder
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups milk
2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
2 slices bread, stale or lightly toasted, crusts removed
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven to 350°F and lightly grease a baking dish with butter.
In a food processor, combine bread, cilantro and ½ tablespoon butter to make breadcrumbs. Add ½ cup cheese and mix well. Set aside.
Cook macaroni according to package directions and set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 1½ tablespoons butter on medium heat. Next, add the chopped onions. Stir and cook until the onions start to turn golden brown. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Continue to stir.
Add garam masala, cumin, turmeric and paprika and stir for 30 seconds.
Next add the flour, salt, and pepper and stir for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk and continue to stir while the mixture starts to thicken, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and add the remaining 1½-cup of cheese. Stir well until the cheese melts into the sauce.
Stir the macaroni into the cheese sauce and combine well. Pour into the greased baking dish and top with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.
Adapted from Monica Bhide