Immigrant, Montana

A young man, explores the pleasures and pangs of immigrant life in Amitava Kumar's novel.

Amitava Kumar

Kailash is a young man from India. His new American friends call him Kalashnikov, AK-47 and AK. He takes it all in his stride: he wants to fit in — and more than that, to shine. In the narrative of his years at a university in New York, AK describes the joys and disappointments of his immigrant experience, the indelible influence of a charismatic professor — also an immigrant — and the very different natures of the women he loved; and of himself in and out of love with each of them. Telling his own story, AK is both meditative and the embodiment of the enthusiasm of youth in all its idealism. His wry, vivid perception of the world he's making his own, and the brilliant melding of story and reportage gives us a singularly engaging, insightful and moving novel — one that explores the varieties of cultural misunderstanding, but is also an impassioned investigation of love. (From Hamish Hamilton)

From the book

I was a new immigrant, eager to shine, and if self-abuse were to be omitted from the reckoning, pure of body and heart. The letters I sent my parents in India were full of enthusiasm for the marvels of my new life. To those who welcomed me to America, I wanted to say, without even being asked, that E.T. ought to have won the Oscar over Gandhi. I had found the latter insufficiently authentic myself. Not so much fake as insubstantial. I understood that I needed a suitable narrative to present to the people I was meeting. There was only contempt in my heart for my fellow Indian students who repeated stories about trying to educate ignorant Americans in barbershops who had asked how come they spoke such good English or if they belonged to tribes or grew up among tigers. The nostalgia I had come to treasure was a hypertrophied sense of the past as a place, a place with street signs and a figure atop a staircase that I recognized. This desire had nothing to do with the kinds of claims to civilizational superiority that make men demolish places of worship or want to bomb cities into oblivion. I knew this and yet I was uncertain about my story. I lacked calm self-knowledge. If a woman spoke to me, particularly if she was attractive, I grew excited and talked too much.

From Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar ©2018. Published by Hamish Hamilton. 


The journalist and novelist talked to Eleanor Wachtel about his new book 'Immigrant, Montana' which blends fiction and autobiography in a story about a young Indian man navigating college life in the United States. 53:39