The Invitation
by Anne Cherian



W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. ISBN 978-0-393-33529-3.
Reviewed by Jennifer Melville
Posted on 03/05/2012

Fiction: Multi-Cultural

When Vikram invites his Indian college friends to his son's graduation party, they accept out of obligation and curiosity. It's been 25 years since their days as young immigrant college students at UCLA and their lives have gone in completely different directions. How will their lives compare? Who has been the most successful and managed to achieve the elusive American dream? How far will each go to put on the best front of success and happiness while hiding their unhappiness, discontent, and unfulfilled dreams?

Anne Cherian's newest novel The Invitation is like an Indian version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Jump head-first into the fast-paced lives of three couples: Frances and Jay, Lali and Jonathan, Vikram and Priya. The characters are multifaceted and complicated, a precarious combination of Indian roots, American futures, and the mixed-in-between present in which each of them lives.

Frances and Jay are a hard-working Indian couple who are always short on time and money. Not only is Frances' real-estate career failing to thrive, but her daughter is failing high school. Hearing that their old friend's son is graduating from a prestigious school is like a slap in the face. The two are mortified that their friends will find out about their daughter's failings. Jay also feels unaccomplished next to his successful friend Vikram and wonders why his life can't be as "perfect." He came from a wealthy Indian family and was always destined to accomplish big things...why is it that these big things haven't happened?

Lali and Jonathan's marriage is crumbling as Jonathan rediscovers his Jewish roots and Lali cannot connect with his passion. She feels alone and left out of Jonathan's world and begins to rekindle an old flame. The possibility for an affair is right in front of her if she wants it. Is it worth the risk of discovery?

Vikram and Priya live in a mansion and drive expensive cars. Vikram's software company is hugely successful and his eldest son has just graduated from MIT. Everything is perfect...or so they want the world to believe. That's why they're throwing the graduation party. In truth, their son has no intention of taking over his father's business and using his degree. He wants to become a chef. Vikram hates this idea. His perfect life is full of discontent and conflict, making it all the harder to clothe his life in a sheath of faux-perfection.

The book's ending was abrupt and inconclusive, but that's my only complaint. I was instantly enthralled by the couples' intertwining lives. I loved the humanity of the characters the imperfections of their lives, despite their efforts to prove to the Indian community that they have it all. The Invitation is fresh and funny. Prepare to step into the colorful and unique lives of these American Indians. You'll love every moment of it.


Anne Cherian is the author of "A Good Indian Wife." She was born and raised in Jamshedpur, India. She graduated from Bombay and Bangalore Universities and received graduate degrees in journalism and comparative literature from the University of California, Berkeley. She currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

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