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After The Hurricane
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Reminiscent of Gabriela Garcia’s Of Women and Salt, Leah Franqui brings us an engrossing, deeply personal novel with a mystery at its heart as a daughter returns to Puerto Rico to search for her troubled father, who has gone missing after Hurricane Maria.
From the outside, Elena Vega’s life appears to be an easy one: the only child of two professional parents, private school, NYU. But her twenties are aimless and lacking in connection. Something has always been amiss in her life: her father, the brilliant but deeply troubled Santiago Vega.
Born in rural Puerto Rico, Santiago arrived in New York as a small child. His harsh, mercurial father returned to the island, leaving Santiago to be raised by his mentally ill mother and his formidable grandmother. An outstanding student, he followed scholarships to Stanford, then Yale Law, marrying Elena’s mother along the way. Santiago is the shining star of his migrant family—the one who made it out and struck it rich. But he is a haunted man, plagued by trauma, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism. He’s lost contact with Elena over the years and returned to San Juan to wrestle his demons alone.
Then Hurricane Maria strikes, and Santiago vanishes. Desperate to know what happened to the father she once adored, Elena returns to Puerto Rico, a place she loved as a child but hasn’t seen in years. There she must unravel the truth about who her father is, crisscrossing the storm-swept island and reaching deep into his family tree to find relatives she’s never met, each of whom seems to possess a clue about Santiago’s fate.
A compelling mystery unfolds, as Elena is reunited with family, and with a place she loved and lost—the island of Puerto Rico, which is itself a character in this book. It’s a story of connection, migration, striving, love, and loss, illuminated by humor and affection, written by a novelist at the height of her gifts.
When Rachel Meyer, a thirtysomething foodie from New York, agrees to move to Mumbai with her Indian-born husband, Dhruv, she knows some culture shock is inevitable. Blessed with a curious mind and an independent spirit, Rachel is determined to learn her way around the hot, noisy, seemingly infinite metropolis she now calls home.
But the ex-pat American’s sense of adventure is sorely tested when her mother-in-law, Swati, suddenly arrives from Kolkata—a thousand miles away—alone, with an even more shocking announcement: she’s left her husband of more than forty years and moving in with them. Nothing the newlyweds say can budge the steadfast Swati, and as the days pass, it becomes clear she is here to stay—an uneasy situation that becomes more difficult when Dhruv is called away on business.
Suddenly these two strong-willed women from such very different backgrounds, who see life so differently, are alone together in a home that each is determined to run in her own way—a situation that ultimately brings into question the very things in their lives that had seemed perfect and permanent . . . with results neither of them expect.
Heartfelt, charming, deeply insightful and wise, Mother Land introduces us to two very different women from very different cultures . . . who maybe aren’t so different after all.
Named one of the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Summer 2018 Selections, an Indie Next Pick for August 2018, and an Amazon Best of July Pick!
Leah Franqui is a proud Philadelphian, and believes the city is far more than just cheese steaks, although she now spends most of her time in Mumbai, where you can’t get a cheese steak at all.
Leah graduated from Yale University in 2009 with an intellectually useful and financially useless degree in Theater Studies. She traveled for a year trying to find herself, working on a farm in southern Spain, going on a Rubens fangirl trip to Belgium, and entertaining fellow train passengers in China. Returning to Philadelphia, she started working in non-profit theater to support her work as a playwright. In 2012 she left Philadelphia again, this time for Brooklyn, to attend graduate school at NYU-Tisch, where she received her masters in Dramatic Writing in 2014. She also met her husband, an Indian screenwriter, through the program. After three years in New York, they decided to relocate to an even more crowded and hectic city, and came to Mumbai.
Leah has written seven full-length plays, one of which was performed in August of 2015 in New York and another of which received the 2013 Goldberg Play-writing award. Her work also includes four full-length screenplays, one of which was awarded the 2013 Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award, and a web series, viewable at https://www.tobyforproductions.com/after-ever-after and myriad articles for blogs and online publications.
Leah has worked as a line chef, a real estate agent, a sewing teacher, a tutor, an assistant, a marketing director, a grant writer, an editor, and recently, a dubbing artist, voicing the main character in a Croatian soap opera for the African market.
Now, Leah spends most of her time writing, in between traveling, cooking, reading, sewing her own clothing, and watching copious amounts of television.
Pival Sengupta has done something she never expected: she has booked a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company. But unlike other upper-class Indians on a foreign holiday, the recently widowed Pival is not interested in sightseeing. She is traveling thousands of miles from Kolkota to New York on a cross-country journey to California, where she hopes to uncover the truth about her beloved son, Rahi. A year ago Rahi devastated his very traditional parents when he told them he was gay. Then, Pival’s husband, Ram, told her that their son had died suddenly—heartbreaking news she still refuses to accept. Now, with Ram gone, she is going to America to find Rahi, alive and whole or dead and gone, and come to terms with her own life.
Arriving in New York, the tour proves to be more complicated than anticipated. Planned by the company’s indefatigable owner, Ronnie Munshi—a hard-working immigrant and entrepreneur hungry for his own taste of the American dream—it is a work of haphazard improvisation. Pavil’s guide is the company’s new hire, the guileless and wonderfully resourceful Satya, who has been in America for one year—and has never actually left the five boroughs. For modesty’s sake Pival and Satya will be accompanied by Rebecca Elliot, an aspiring young actress. Eager for a paying gig, she’s along for the ride, because how hard can a two-week "working" vacation traveling across America be?
Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son—and her hopes of a reunion with him—are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Prival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America—and themselves—in different and profound new ways.
IN THE PRESS
Check out what the critics have to say!
“compelling… a strong contemporary story about cross-cultural alliances, the bonds of family and what it means to ‘learn America.’”- USA Today
“America for Beginners will take you on a truly extraordinary cross-country journey.”- Hello Giggles
“a funny, feel-good cross-country tale...exactly the kind of story that we could use right now — people of different backgrounds coming together and realizing that they are more similar than assumed.”- AM New York
“Complex and well-drawn characters… America for Beginners has something — or someone, for everyone.”- The Washington Times
“A satisfying, heartfelt novel… Franqui adroitly balances all the characters, making them distinct and refreshing. Readers will be taken by this emotionally rewarding novel.” -Publishers Weekly
"The pleasure of this smart, mild-mannered novel is that, through its juxtapositions, the reader, too, begins to see the country afresh." - The Wall Street Journal
"There’s no hyperbole in the effusive praise garnered by Philadelphia native Leah Franqui’s first novel, America for Beginners. Her charming story of an Indian widow’s solo trip to America merits comparisons to Anne Tyler (Clock Dance, A Spool of Blue Thread) for its balance of warm, gentle, convincing characters and frank exploration of thorny and timely topics." - The Broad Street Review
"Extremely moving, this is a gorgeous book about a different type of American road trip." - The New York Post
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