The Book Club Pune

The members of The Book Club Pune met to discuss “An American Marriage” by ‘Tayari Jones’. The discussion was led by Sunita Shetty,

Sunita Shetty is a Marketing professional with a degree from Paris. She is a member of a Choir and also a performing storyteller.

Read on to know what Indu Kulkarni thought of the presentation and the discussion that followed:

Popular Marketing Lady much travelled Sunita Shetty  narrated An American Marriage, Tayari Jones’s fourth novel, much touted for its powerful depiction of human relationships of Afro-American folk in the South.  Her dramatic rendering of the plot made it memorable.  She shared the fact that Tayari spent six years trying to get the ideas right at her Harvard Research work and bingo in a mall in  Atlanta she overheard a young couple , “ You don’t even know what it takes to be alone for ten years.” Was the young lady’s plaint. And suddenly the novel bore fruit of the creamy layer of folk in the state of Atlanta. 

Roy, our hero leaves his small town to come to Atlanta, full of vim and ambition to make a marketing career. He meets Celestial a charming girl , an elite social dame whose hobby is making dolls. Andre is another college buddy.  Years go by and they meet in a restaurant. Something clicks between Roy and Celestial. In an incident where her bag is snatched, Roy rushes to rescue the purse and wins her admiration. They fall in love and are married. Roy encourages her creative joy in doll making. Roy worries that his mom doesn’t take to Celestial. Roy Sr  advises him to have a kid and win his mother over. In Louisiana, Olivia wants them to live with them but Roy wants to stay in a hotel. Old man Roy is not his biological father and Celestial is shocked to learn this. But Roy says Love is more important than anything else. In the ensuing heated argument Roy and Celestial call a 15 min truce to cool off.Roy goes off to buy some ice and meets an old lady outside and helps her with her bag. The happy couple are rudely interrupted by the police who arrest him on the charges of raping the old lady. Roy is aghast and Celestial says he was with her all along. The case is loaded against his black origin and Celestial’s vehement denial of his guilt is ignored by the jury. He is convicted to 12 years in jail. He tells Celestial to be brave and do her own thing. The tragic outcome of this  episode is that Celestial finds herself pregnant and at his advice aborts the child. She then regrets it bitterly. Though he told her to get on with her life..” His words and eyes did not match.”

Catch the discussion here if you missed it: https://www.facebook.com/gyaanadab/videos/1494041017652551/

Celestial is highly successful in her doll making business and shifts to New York, wins awards. She makes a baby doll like Roy and dresses it in his baby clothes given by Olivia, his mom.  Roy is furious and then apologizes. Ironically in the prison Roy is put with an elder inmate, Walter who turns out to be his biological father. He takes  care of him . Meanwhile the lawyers are trying to free Roy. Letters are written back and forth.  Celestial and Roy are drifting apart and Andre is getting close to her. Celestial’s father visits him and Roy requests him to tell Celestial to see him. Celestial confesses that she would rather be a friend to Roy and the letters give us a perception of the minds and feelings of the characters. Roy is enraged at her slow change of heart .Olivia dies of Cancer and Roy asks Andre to be a pall bearer on his behalf.Meanwhile Andre proposes to Celestial  and she accepts. Celestial’s  father is wild and says how can you forget your marriage vows. 

Roy is released and the father proudly goes to fetch him. He comes to Atlanta and Andre goes to meet him . Roy goes to Celestial’s Pouppe shop and sees her. He asks her ,” Do you still love me ?”, and she is silent.    Frustrated  Roy realizes she loves Andre now. The two friends meet and fight like Rams head on for the love of Celestial. She has to assure the police it is an altercation and broker peace. In extremis  we can see the characters clutching at last straws to recover lost loves and  the despair of the trio. Andre goes away and we can guess the ending as Celestial has not thrown away the house key and there is hope. Sunita did a dramatic feeling presentation full of fire.

A lively debate ensued on how human relationships are skewed by prison sentences and separation and guilt attributed to innocent men due to the prejudice against blacks in America. The question of no mention of medical evidence of rape and the jury’s  conviction of Roy without the truth of the situation. The privileged families behave independently is clear from Celestial’s father’s comments and  Celestial’s own behaviour and desire to be free.  Some one spoke of divine justice and someone spoke of stereotype profiling of blacks in the novel.  Elder Roy adopting Roy and standing by him was praised for his fortitude.  Flawed beings and their fate being tragic was observed. Sunita herself felt the sadness of the migrant workers’ plight in our own country and the injustice  meted out to the poor  has echoes in the novel. Mohini  wound up the evening with her shrewd observations about this novel dealing with educated blacks of the creamy layer beset with the same trials of other flawed humans caught up in a web of circumstances.  The title is justifiable as it holds good for the plot and fiction near real on the issues of race and relationships.