Book Review: Gold Diggers

Genre: Fiction with a bit of magical realism

Star Rating: 3-1/2 out of 5

Synopsis from The StoryGraph: Spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, Gold Diggers expertly balances social satire and magical realism in a classic striver story that skewers the model minority narrative, asking what a community must do to achieve the American dream. In razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian perfectly captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. This blockbuster novel both entertains and levels a critique of what Americans of color must do to make their way.A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn’t share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents’ expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal.But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry’s original owner. Anjali’s own mother in Bombay didn’t waste the precious potion on her daughter, favoring her sons instead. Anita, on the other hand, just needs a little boost to get into Harvard. But when Neil–who needs a whole lot more–joins in the plot, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart.Ten years later, Neil is an oft-stoned Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. His high school cohort has migrated to Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft–only now, the stakes are higher. Anita’s mother is in trouble, and only gold can save her. Anita and Neil must pull off one last heist.

I read this as a buddy read with my friend, Katie, this month. I had no preconcieved ideas about this one as it was her pick and I didn’t have it on my radar. It’s listed as a magical realism title, but I think it leans much more heavily towards just plain fiction with just a dash of magic in it. (I compare it to, let’s say, Alice Hoffman’s writings where magic is a much more integral part of the story.)

I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about this book. The first half, which follows Neal and Anita when they are in high school, dragged for me. The pacing is slow and while it is necessary to the extent that it gives some back story on why they are stealing gold, it could have been much shorter, in my opinion. The second half was better paced, but I struggled with trying to sort out whether this was about magical things, or just a discussion of the immigrant experience in 20th century America – it felt a little disconnected to me. To be honest, I think I would have liked to have read the secondary story of the Indian immigrant during the Gold Rush that Neal is ostensibly researching for his dissertation better. THAT was an intriguing story line.

The characters are deeply developed but I had a hard time liking any of them. I felt like Neal’s issues with his parents, his friends, his career path, and drugs, were too easily resolved at the end of the book. The author did do an amazing job recreating the stressors and tensions that exist being the child of immigrants who want you to succeed (almost beyond any reasons or restrictions). I heard a lot of the same things my grandfather (who was a first generation American) used to say about his parents – the pressure to be “someone important”, the need to fit into the American culture without jettisoning your historical culture, and what growing up in a class that is often looked down on requires you to do to succeed.

So an uneven read for me. I think Katie liked it a bit more than I did, based on our discussion, but she did have some of the same criticisms of this title. It was a good choice for a book outside my normal spheres of choice, and that’s the great thing about book clubs and buddy reads – they make you expand your horizons.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Gold Diggers

  1. This sounds like an interesting book, though I would probably be more interested in the story-within-the-story, too. It sounds more compelling based on the way you describe it. I do appreciate things that help me branch out and find books I wouldn’t read otherwise! Thanks for the review of this one. I don’t know that I’ll pick it up, but it is good to have the exposure to books outside my comfort zone of sci-fi-fantasy.

  2. I really lucked out – Katie is an online friend I met via IG and we have similar but not completely matching tastes, so we are each picking a book a quarter this year and both of the ones she’s selected I never would have read, but enjoyed both of them (albeit for different reasons). I struggle making myself read outside my comfort zone without a nudge of some kind!

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