Review by John Samson
On Sunday, the 4th of October, 2020, the Book Club hosted a review of Lucky Boy, presented by Mohini Khot. Mohini’s vivid recounting of the story was inspiring, and raised many questions centered around the dialectic between human laws and natural order.
Shanthi Sekaran’s second novel written in 2017 is about two mothers, bound together by their love for one “Lucky Boy”.
The adoptive mother Kavya has all the accoutrements to support nourishment of a baby. A comfortable home, a supportive and caring husband, as well as the security that comes with the status of a second-generation legal immigrant. Her indomitable spirit is however thwarted by the fact of having a hostile womb that denies her the privilege of biological motherhood.
Soli, drunk on the anticipation of embracing the American dream leaves the humdrum life of Oaxaca, to embark on what she discovers to be a perilous journey across the U.S. – Mexican border. Weeks later she arrives at her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California, shaken up by a narrow escape from becoming a drug mule and multiple incidents of rape, of which she was a hapless victim. The silver lining was the true love she found, and though their ways parted, she convinced herself that he was the benefactor of the child she was carrying. Motherhood was the sacrament which restored her optimism, and the boy at her breast was her one precious possession which she guarded assiduously.
Alas, persona non-grata on account of her illegal status, she finds herself victimized by the system– exploited by employers and raped by a prison guard. Her child is wrested callously from her care and placed in a foster home, whence he is adopted by Kavya, who finds fulfillment in nurturing him.
There were instances in the story which bordered on the implausible, such as Soli’s escape from prison. Lucky Boy does reveal however the ungainly underbelly of the American justice system, especially with regard to the inhuman treatment of illegal immigrants. It also exposes the inescapably bleak and sometimes bitter irony of life in general. For instance, the fact the adoptive mother was socially well endowed, but didn’t have the natural ability of child bearing or breast feeding. Whereas the biological mother was able to do both with élan; but despite her best efforts to rise above her circumstances, was treated as a pariah by the system.
Through the conduit of gripping narrative, Sekaran challenges our moral compass; is it right that Kavya can adopt a child without even meeting the biological mother? Is Soli justified in kidnapping her own child, even though it’s against the law? Does a person forfeit their right to be treated humanely, just because they have breached the laws of immigration?
Mohini Khot’s review of the book very ably brought about these and other reflections.
Review by Mehvash Peerbhoy
The 27th virtual session of the Book Club at Gyaan Adab was on Shanthi Sekaran’s novel ‘Lucky Boy’, and the discussion was led by Dr. Mohini Khot. As Suyash mentioned in his introduction: as the founder of the Book Club and with a PhD in Drama under her belt, Mohini was a presenter a lot of us were looking forward to.
Without much ado, Mohini launched into the session of this complex novel by telling us how she stumbled upon the book herself; and how she found it a rewarding read, especially after she took a chance with it. The novel is the author’s second work, written in 2017, consisting of 470 pages. Mohini introduced us to the novel’s (and its characters’) starting point – a human need for love, a concept that Sekaran reveals to us through themes of immigration, privilege and parenthood.
We heard from Mohini the stories of the two protagonists, 18-year-old Soli and 36-year-old Kavya – two immigrants in the US with wildly different experiences, and how their lives intertwined in the form of a little baby boy – a lucky boy, for having two mothers who love him as much as they do.
As rewarding as Mohini said at the start of the session the book had been, she was fair and unbiased in her critiquing of the novel. She was critical of some of the gaping loopholes present in the plot, mainly an exceedingly simple escape in one of the climactic moments of the book – which led to the discussion being thrown open to the general population.
A number of interesting questions and observations were made by a number of people. Monali Chatterjee pondered over the ethnicity of some of the other characters mentioned in the book, and the role that played in a part of the books; while Usha Sinha pondered over the title and whether or not Sekaran was ironic in her usage of the word ‘lucky’. Usha also raised an interesting parallel of the boy with two mothers with Krishna, Devaki and Yashodha – an “insightful remark that goes a long way to universalising the book”, in the words of Mohini!
There was a particularly lively back and forth between Mohini and Indu Kulkarni about where the sympathies of the author seemed to lie – with Soli or with Kavya, and whether she was fair in her treatment of the two characters. Gautam Idnani and Prashant Sinha also contributed their own unique takeaways from their reading of the book.
Those of us who are Book Club regulars already know of Mohini’s storytelling genius. Her narration of the events of the story, as she guided us through the characters and their minds and lives, made everything come alive so vividly. Interspersed with her own interesting opinions and takeaways, as well as the quotes that she so thoughtfully and painstakingly incorporated into her presentation so as to give us a flavour of the writing, her account really made those of us who hadn’t read the book feel alright for not having done so – because by the end of the evening, it really felt like we had!