'Lucky Boy': the tale of the life of an illegal immigrant
March 5, 2017 12:00 AM
By Melissa M. Firman
With a focus on illegal immigration that parallels current issues in the news, Shanthi Sekaran's second novel “Lucky Boy” explores how innocent lives, especially those of children, can irrevocably change because of reckless decisions and complicated systems.
By Shanthi Sekaran G.P. Putnam’s Sons ($27).
Eighteen-year-old Solimar (“Soli”) Castro-Valdez dreams of a new life in America, away from her impoverished Mexican town of Popocalco. Her cousin promises work in California and her trusting father finances Soli’s trip, believing a coyote’s false promises to safely smuggle his daughter into the country. Predictably, Soli’s trek becomes harrowing and dangerous (several rape scenes may be difficult for some to read); also, predictably, Soli falls in love with her protector during their shared journey.
Shortly after arriving at her cousin Silvia’s home in Berkeley, Soli discovers she is pregnant. A warm family reunion this isnt. A domineering and cold woman, Silvia manages a workforce of undocumented immigrants and only views Soli as a revenue source.
While Soli works as a housekeeper and cares for her newborn son Ignacio, Ms. Sekaran introduces her reader to Kavya and Rishi Reddy, an affluent and emotionally insecure Berkeley couple preoccupied with work and status. Desperately desiring a child — for reasons mostly stemming from a chance to best Kavya's “perfect” childhood nemesis and to quiet society’s expectations — they turn to fertility treatments.
After a routine traffic stop gone bad results in Soli being discovered as an illegal alien, Soli and Kavya’s lives — and Ignacio’s — begin to interact more clearly. Deportation procedures are initiated and Ignacio is placed into foster care, landing in the custody of Kavya and Rishi who, in one of the novel’s many disingenuous moments, hand-pick Ignacio among a room of toddlers and infants seemingly ripe for the taking.
This erroneous portrayal of the foster care and adoption process is only one example — albeit a significant one — of how “Lucky Boy” is rife with generalities and stereotypes. The novel’s plodding and stilted prose is laden with melodrama, flat metaphors and odd phrasing. (On Soli’s pregnancy cravings: “She ate like a beast in a cave. She found herself addicted, thinking only of her next meal, where it would come from, what it would taste like, how much of it she could cram down the hole before anyone saw her.”
The sex-on-demand nature of Kavya and Rishi’s fertility quest gets similar treatment: “She was timing herself religiously now, waiting for mittelschmerz, that sharp ache in her lower abdomen that meant an egg was on its journey. She felt it that morning in the shower: The mittel had arrived and she was schmerzing like a fiend.”
Although Soli and Kavya’s experiences and losses evoke a reader’s compassion and sympathy, “Lucky Boy” doesn’t find its focus and footing to succinctly convey how different paths and obstacles to motherhood shape one’s identity. If a woman is unable to become pregnant, what messages are received from society about one’s value? If someone doesn’t have identification, how does that person justify one’s worth and purpose — and is it ever possible to gain a sense of belonging and place?
These are complicated questions, and while “Lucky Boy” attempts to answer them through the connected path of motherhood and immigration, this novel’s rambling journey stumbles before reaching its intended destination.
Melissa M. Firman is a Pittsburgh based freelance writer and editor.
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