I don’t know that I’m going to be able to find adequate words to describe my feelings for this book. This intergenerational heart-wrenching gem of a book, with its slow burn that creeps into your veins and takes hold of you; there really aren’t words that do it justice. Mitali Perkins has crafted something precious here. A deceivingly simple story about three generations of women – just 5 girls growing up, changing, learning, making mistakes, and, of course, falling in love. You may be tempted to think that this book will be a quick read, but let me tell you: You Bring the Distant Near is not a “quick” book. The story is soft and slow, and it’ll stay with you long after you finish it.
I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that reminds me so much of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, and if you know me, then you know that there is no higher compliment I can give a book than to compare it to what is one of my all-time favorite stories. You Bring the Distant Near is not a replica of Ava Lavender, not by a long shot (in fact, besides being an intergenerational story, they have almost nothing in common), but it has the same power that Ava Lavender has. It’s the power to completely transform your way of thinking. It’ll sink into your heart, into your mind, into your very bones.
Tara and Sonia are sisters growing up around the world – from Ghana to London and finally to New York, where they must learn how to forge their own path amidst the pressures of their parents’ cultural expectations. Then, when tragedy strikes, they must choose once and for all who they’re going to be. Will they choose to follow their mother’s wishes that they become successful Bengali girls or will they step outside of their comfort zones and pursue their passions in theater and civil rights activism? Then, we follow Shanti and Anna, cousins who couldn’t be from two more polar backgrounds. Shanti is striving to connect her black and Bengali heritages (and keep her grandmothers from killing each other) while Anna is staunchly protecting her Indian culture and refusing to assimilate into America. But when the grandmother they share, Ranee, decides to become an American citizen, they both must come to terms with what it means to be American, and face their heritage – all of it – head on.
The prose is beautiful, and the story even more so. The Bengali-American Das women are sure to win you over with their charm, their grit, their tenacity, and their strength to more forward through everything life has to offer. I think, in the end, that’s what I love most about You Bring the Distant Near – it’s a book that truly captures life: the good and the bad, the happiness and the sorrow – it explores the very marrow we all are made of. Humans are capable of such incredible things, but the true beauty of living is that the small things are what end up making a life. From choosing to marry someone despite your family’s cultural objections to deciding when to stop wearing traditional mourning clothes after the death of a loved one, this book celebrates the small stuff. It revels in the details. In the many minute facets that truly make our lives. It’s a beautiful thing, and you don’t want to miss it. If you read one contemporary this year, make sure it’s this one.
Rating: 5+/5 stars