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The inscrutable Americans: book review

The inscrutable Americans is the journey of Gopal. An Indian from a small town called Jajau in Madhya Pradesh. His father owns a hair oil factory there and Gopal will soon inherit the family business. He goes to America to get a degree and the book showcases the year of Gopal’s life in USA.

The book is funny and simple – it uses many myths and nuances of the Indian and the American way of life in humorous situations, without berating either. It takes the reader on a journey of America as seen through Gopal’s eyes and also attempts to show how the Yanks view him as a person with comical english. Gopal thinks The penthouse letters and Deep Throat summarise America and uses incidents from those media to adjust to the American way of life!

The inscrutable Americans highlights many misconceptions that Indians(and a person from any other developing country) have about USA. It also pokes fun at how things are “opposite” in USA, like lights that turn ON by flicking the switch in what is the OFF position in Asia, cars that travel on the “wrong” side of the road, etc.

The book also delves into racial attacks and curious situations that lead to embarrassment…

1) “Once a child had come up to him and swiped his little fingers across Gopal’s arm to check if perhaps the brown colour was merely dirt that had congealed. Finding no dirt on his fingers, he trotted back puzzled to his mortified mother.”

2) The man was upon him, his face an inch from Gopal’s. “I jest dont like eyr-ranians, boy. No furrin niggers neither. I jest dont like them. Comin in here, takin our jobs, takin our women. I jest dont like it. Why dont you get back to your camel land while you can? Know what I mean? Know what I’m sayin you furrin fuckin filthy asshole?” “I am Indian.” Gopal gasped pleadingly.

He is awed by America!

1) “Brother,” roared Gopal making Sushant swerve, “can you park quickly?” Gopal gazed ahead transfixed.  “What’s happened?” “Ah, New York!”… Gopal nodded, still mesmerised by the city swathed in platinum glitter…

2) Here there was tranquility, efficiency, a certain new world courtsey and civility all their own… The business of living was made easy, so you could get on with doing much more than surviving. Ye Gods, the very phones worked. Initially he used to pick up the phone and listen to the dial tone as if it were music.

The protagonist from India has trouble in communication when he mistakes a greeting and starts narrating his life to strangers-

Gopal wandered about the lobby watched by a girl at the reception counter. He looked her way and their eyes met “Hi,” she smiled, “how’s it going?” “What to say,” confessed Gopal, touched by her interest and not wishing to let it go unrewarded. “So many things are happening. First I am not finding bathroom and having to close door and things like that.  Then there is vegetarian food problem…” so on and so forth! (Gopal uses “things like that” as a filler in every sentence)

The book is funny where Gopal goes to a party and finds himself at the clutches of a girl who has slept with 999 boys and wants to de-virgin-ise Gopal as her 1000th conquest. Gopal in turn, tries to woo her by seducing her and winning her over in his own way and when things dont go as planned, he fears getting physically hurt by her brother and for protection, turns to a guy called “The Peacock”! A colorful character who dresses jazzy and speaks in rhyme! The Peacock takes Gopal on a tour thru his neighbourhood –

Gopal shook his head in disbelief. “It is not even looking like America. No one is working, there is so much dirt, it is so poor”. “I figure they dont think it is part of America either. The white boys keep the junkyard between them and us and they dont want to see us or hear about us.”

He attends church where he gives a speech and is asked a question by an old lady –

“Young man,” she rose ceaking to her feet, “tell me. Do you drive elephants in the daytime as well as nighttime? I mean do they have headlights and tail lights that blink when they turn at night?”

Gopal finds a cause for debate when he finds a head-waiter at a restaurant distributing pamphlets –

The man’s leaflet was far more fascinating. It reminded the reader about the global communist conspiracy against America and warned that its latest manifestation was the attempt to mix coloured blood with white Americans so as to “dilute the perfection of the Aryan race whose achievements have taken the world to where it is.” Gopal brightened visible at the prospect of an argument. He had come to believe that though the American personality contained many positive elements, it lacked the essential one of enjoying arguments.

He attends church after having thoughts –

The desire to seek converts was a palpable one among all Christian preachers in India despite firm discouragement by the Government. In America where there was something of a shortage of people who remained to be converted, preachers must be starved of heathen souls to save.

During Christmas time, he feels lonely for the want of his family and friends and takes a bus-

From the whites, he had found extremes of friendship or dislike. Even when they ignored him, it was an active kind of ignoring. With the blacks, he had sensed an acceptance that was passive and therefore felt much more genuine….. He contemplates further – He could only wonder why there wasn’t a continuous violent insurgency by the blacks, given the wealth with which they were surrounded and their own poverty. He also thought it short sightedness of the whites not to have made a determined effort to bring more blacks into the middle class in order to lower the crime rate, if nothing else. After his visit to the Peacock’s ghetto, he had tried to educate himself about the situation of the blacks in America and had been shocked at the statistics regarding black unemployment and crime. He believed that people in such large numbers could only have turned to crime out of desperation. And Gopal didnt believe that a country as wealthy, as well run, as cohesive as the United States couldn’t solve this relatively small problem if they actually wanted to.

He even becomes a make-shift Santa in a mall; after which he ponders when everyone is out shopping on christmas eve and is delighted to see a crowd at the stores as it reminds him of India –

He was pleased to see that their year-long languor was the result of excessive availability rather than a softening of that vigorous American spirit that had stolen California from the Mexicans, Louisiana from the French and much of the rest of the country from the American Indians. When confronted with opposition, he noted with joy, the Americans wrestled, abused and snatched their prizes with a vigour that would have won them applause even in an Indian bazaar and boded well for the future of the Free world.

The inscrutable Americans is a book that summarises the state of the country (USA) so accurately and presents it in a format that is fun to read. The author makes the reader connect to the protagonist and has written the book in such a way, that a person who has stayed in USA will go nodding “yeah, I have experienced that…” and a person who has not been in USA will not get bored by the details as he can have fun at the expense of the protagonist.

Anurag Mathur’s “The inscrutable Americans” is my 2nd book by an Indian author after Chetan Bhagat’s “Five point someone”. I liked it much more than Five point someone. I give it 4/5 for its accuracy and 3.5 for its entertainment. It is a must read for Americans who want to know about Indians in their country and for Indians who are traveling to America!

ISBN :81-7167-040-7; Price: Rs. 95 – Will make you laugh and will also make you ponder!

  1. December 7, 2011 at 16:04

    Good day :)How are you? It’s good to know that you are still around this website. How did you pass the latest Google update? It seems that your blog is one of the strongest in the current SERP’s! Hope you will maintain the quality, just don’t forget about your friends 😉 Bye-Bye :*

  2. September 21, 2009 at 22:58

    I’d forgotten to add your new link to my reader. and was wondering where u went!!

    I loved the book. It was simply told…and his language was a riot. I’ve liked it way better than any of the other indian authors’ attempts to relive their IIM/IIT/AIIMS lives.

  3. September 18, 2009 at 16:18

    am laughing already and its just the review. Sure want to catch hold of this book fast!!

    • September 18, 2009 at 17:08

      Hi Sujata,
      Its a good lite read…. more comical if you know the US way of life… I just finished reading another book by Anurag Mathur called Department of Denials… even that was funny! Do chk out that too…

  4. September 14, 2009 at 14:13

    Man, its been over 10 years since I read this I think! 🙂

    • September 14, 2009 at 16:14

      Hi Serendipity,
      Yup, for regular book readers, this book is old news… but the book has incidents that hold true even after a decade…

  5. September 14, 2009 at 02:01

    sounds like an interesting read for sure! i love books that talk about racial differences and culture.

    • September 14, 2009 at 13:07

      Hi Floreta,
      If you are familiar with the American culture, you should read this book… It may give you some insight into the Indian way of life for your upcoming trip here 🙂

  6. September 14, 2009 at 01:50

    Hey Spike!

    My poor eye for detail took a month to realize you had moved your blog! Today I was looking at my blogroll and I was like, Spike’s blog has not had an update in a very long time – must be a problem with my updates and lo! This is what I found…

    Anyway, blogroll updated and back to your blog now 🙂

    I read this book quite a few years ago and I remember enjoying it thoroughly. That was also the time I had seen a few Desi movies like Where’s The Party and stuff, so that made it all the more interesting. Definitely a book that should be read once and enjoyed…

    • September 14, 2009 at 13:06

      Hi Anupama,
      Thanks for correcting the link and for coming here after being ‘lost’ 🙂 Its good to see you here.
      Yeah, the book is light and true in its content to make a good read without troubling too many brain cells.
      Did you also enjoy watching “The president is coming?” and “Aagey se right?”. Former was more like a play reaching out to larger audiences thru movie halls and it was funny! Latter is more like a commercial movie made like a play without too many retakes to get finess! Also evokes some laughter with its witty screenplay.

      • September 14, 2009 at 19:18

        Haven’t seen those yet but I’ll take your recommendations…thanks for those 🙂

        • September 14, 2009 at 22:20

          You are welcome Anupama. Do let me know if u liked the movies after u watch them.

  7. September 13, 2009 at 17:13

    Considering that the book is pretty old, at least a decade-and-a-half, it is remarkable that people would still identify with it! The more things change, the more they remain the same, eh?

    His other book, ‘Making the Minister Smile’ is not that good. One might argue that it does cover pretty much what’s been happening in India (corruption, bribery, adultery etc etc) and is tiresome in that respect, but the book itself is marred by poor writing and loses the humour after, say, the first 25 pages. It does have that trait found in “New Indian Fiction” you seem to be reading, down pat, though (weird sentence construction): coincidence / serendipity aiding hero(es) get out of impossible situations. Very bollywood-y, very script-like. I am still struggling with Vikas Swarup’s (Slumdog, rather Q&A) Six Suspects, after giving up on it twice. Too many coincidences!!!

    • September 14, 2009 at 13:03

      hi Friendlygiant,
      The book may be old, but it is well researched… I have known americans who still think Elephants walk in India and that the streets are full of snake charmers and poor people dying of hunger…
      My funda is simple – If the movie is good, stay away from the book. If the book is good, watch the movie with a pinch of salt (Harry potter series).
      many readers have shared my belief that Indian authors are A) not that good B) one hit wonders (Chetan Bhagat).
      Anurag seems to have been better than most others writers, some of whom are not even fit to be novice bloggers!

  8. Ava
    September 12, 2009 at 08:12

    I read it a long time back, and didnt like it much. I need to re-read it.

    • September 14, 2009 at 12:57

      Hi Ava,
      Was i the poor English that turned you off? Maybe it is too simplistic for your taste? (pondering….)

  9. September 11, 2009 at 21:04

    I needed to find a book to read this weekend..guess this will b it then!

    • September 14, 2009 at 12:57

      Hi Shanu,
      Did you read the book? How it was? Pls tell me how gopal is making you feel…

  10. September 11, 2009 at 17:55

    The book is a surprisingly good mix of humor and pathos.

    • September 14, 2009 at 12:56

      Hello Doc @ large,
      Very nicely summed up… Pathos is a perfect way f summarising the readers feelings about Gopal. (PS: Thanks for using Pathos, I had to look it up and it increased my vocab)

  11. September 11, 2009 at 17:19

    oh this book is total paisa vasool! i love gopal’s english….and never forget the time he meets randy
    “hey, i’m randy”
    “but why?”!!! 😀

    • September 14, 2009 at 12:53

      Hi Nikita,
      Gopal’s english was a riot! “When I’m cracking a joke, they are saying get out of here, and i am thinking they are asking me to leave the room so I went away…”

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