Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Review: On the Outside Looking Indian

Summary: Rupinder Gill was raised under the strict rules of her parents' Indian upbringing. While her friends were practicing their pliƩs, having slumber parties, and spending their summers at camp, Rupinder was cleaning, babysitting her siblings, and watching hours on end of American television. But at age 30, Rupinder realized how much she regretted her lack of childhood adventure.

Stepping away from an orderly life of tradition, Rupinder set put to finally experience the things she missed out on. From learning to swim and taking dance lessons, to going to Disney World, her growing to-do list soon became the ultimate trip down non-memory lane. What began as a desire to experience all that had been denied to her leads to a discovery of what it means to be happy, and the important lessons that are learned when we are at play. -- Riverhead

When I read the premise for ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING INDIAN by Rupinder Gill, I thought it sounded like a memoir that had the potential to be very funny. Just the title alone had me giggling, but I wondered if an entire book about a girl growing up Indian in the U.S. would hold my attention. I mean the story isn't exactly something I could relate to. However, I have had a few Indian friends and neighbors through the years so I figured some of it might resonate with me.

ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING INDIAN is Rupinder Gill's memoir about her childhood and the way it affected her as an adult. Ms. Gill, who now writes for the National Post and McSweeney's, grew up with strict Indian parents, and she wasn't allowed to participate in many of the normal activities of which American girls are so fond. No swimming lessons, dancing or sleepovers, but plenty of American television!

When Ms. Gill was finally on her own, away from her parents, she decided that she was tired of feeling like she had missed out, so she set out to experience these things that she missed as a kid. She takes dancing and swimming lessons, visits Disney World, and even takes part in a sleepover. As she completes each task on her to-do list, she learns many valuable lessons about herself, her family, and the importance of fun.

After reading the first few chapters, I have to say I was enjoying this book. I found Ms. Gill's narrative about her childhood to be quite entertaining and funny; and I found that she has a talent for telling stories. I appreciated how she managed to infuse humor into her situation, and I admit that I did feel slightly bad for her because it seemed like she did miss out on a lot of good old American fun like swimming and dance lessons. However, the entire time I read the book, I kept thinking that her childhood wasn't that bad. Her parents were strict, but they did love her and her siblings.

I can't pinpoint what happened, but the novelty of ONE THE OUTSIDE LOOKING INDIAN got lost on me about half-way through the book. Maybe it's because I read this book in just a few sittings and I would have enjoyed it more had I spaced out her adventures. I found that I wasn't laughing as much at her stories and I began to wonder what her parents (and other Indians) thought about her insights into her life and the Indian culture. Maybe I'm being overly sensitive (or extremely naive), but I thought parts of this book were irreverent and stereotypical. And there became a point where I felt almost guilty when I laughed.

That's not to say that there weren't some positive points to Ms. Gill's experiences. As she completed all of the things she didn't have the chance to do as a child, Ms. Gill did manage to learn some valuable lessons and some of these touched my heart. When she attended a summer camp with kids who have cancer, she was deeply affected by this experience -- who wouldn't be? In addition, I did find myself laughing at the thought of an adult doing some of these basic childhood experiences. The parts of the story where she was learning to swim were very funny and I thought she did an excellent job of contrasting her desire to learn with her fear of water.

Overall, ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING INDIAN was just an okay read for me. While there were some very funny parts, the book didn't live up to my expectations. I don't think there was inherently anything wrong with this book, but I do think I'm just not the target audience.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.


Amritorupa Kanjilal said...

I'm an Indian, and I spent my childhood in Louisiana... I can't say I can identify with Rupinder Gill's experiences, I was pretty much allowed to do what other normal 10 yr olds were doing...
I love how you described how the funniness faded out for you. Some Indian writers do try to use stereotypes to make their books funny, but that works even less in novels than it does in stand up comedy.
Do visit!

bermudaonion said...

Hm, my parents were pretty strict too, so maybe I could relate to some of this book. Maybe I'll read it a little at a time.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

You are the absolute best at finding "punny" titles for books you read!