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Under The Lemon Trees

by Bhira Backhaus
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • Publishing date: 17/03/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780312379537
  • ISBN: 0312379536

Synopsis

A beautifully written debut novel of a young Indian woman struggling between embracing her heritage and fitting in as an American

In Oak Grove, California, 1976, there are as many Sikh temples as Christian churches, the city council has prints announcements in both English and Punjabi and the large Indian immigrant community is gracefully coexists with the old farming families. But for 15-year-old Jeeto, figuring out where she fits best?and what she must do to find that fit?isn’t so easy.

Jeeto soon realizes that the women around her do far more than drink tea on balmy California afternoons?their traditions and religion give shape to fortune and destiny in a world of arranged marriages and strict family politics that force Jeeto to struggle with reconciling the possibilities of freedom and love.

In the tradition of Jhumpa Lahiri and Arundhati Roy, Under the Lemon Trees is poised to speak to this same audience in an historically successful market. A stellar debut from an acclaimed writer, this is a story about finding love and discovering a true home while navigating traditions, family and faith?part Bend it Like Beckham, part Monsoon Wedding, this is a cultural and romantic tour de force.

Bhira Backhaus lives in Phoenix, but was born and raised in California’s Central Valley where her parents emigrated from India. She received her MFA from Arizona State University and won the Martindale prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices 2005.

In Oak Grove, California, 1976, there are as many Sikh temples as Christian churches, the city council has print announcements in both English and Punjabi and the large Indian immigrant community gracefully coexists with the old farming families. But for 15-year-old Jeeto, figuring out where she fits best?and what she must do to find that fit?isn’t so easy.

Jeeto soon realizes that the women around her do far more than drink tea on balmy California afternoons?their traditions and religion give shape to fortune and destiny in a world of arranged marriages and strict family politics that force Jeeto to struggle with reconciling the possibilities of freedom and love.

Under the Lemon Trees is a beautifully written novel of a young Indian woman struggling between embracing her heritage and fitting in as an American. A stellar debut from an acclaimed writer, it is a story about finding love and discovering a true home while navigating traditions, family and faith.
"In this debut novel, a young Indian-American woman comes to an awareness of her family, her community and the extent to which her fate rests in her own hands. It's 1976 and Jeeto Rai is a high-school junior in Oak Grove, in central California's orchard region. Her older sister, Neelam, has recently married a man her parents chose for her. Neelam's real passion, however, is for Hari, grandson of community pillar Mohta Singh who was sent away when his tryst with Neelam, and her resulting pregnancy, was discovered. Mindful of her sister's fate, Jeeto cautiously picks her way through her own forbidden desire for local bad boy Pritam. Also unknown to her parents, Jeeto is accepted at Berkeley, but the tug of history and tradition complicates her longing to leave Oak Grove. Similarly, her own looming arranged marriage both intrigues and scares her. As a first-person narrator, Jeeto functions largely as an observer of Oak Grove's Sikh community?non-Indians, goras, figure only peripherally in Jeeto's world?and its sometimes inscrutable mores. There are lots of kameezes and chunis and people named Singh who aren't necessarily related . . . Chapters that flash back to Jeeto's uncle's arrival in the United States and his own ill-fated love for a Mexican waitress provide the book's most compelling narrative motion."?Kirkus Reviews

"Backhaus situates this debut novel in Oak Grove, CA, in the mid-1970s. The story centers on Jeeto Rai, the youngest teenage daughter in a traditional Sikh family who faces the strong likelihood of an arranged marriage. Though her sister Neelam has recently wed according to custom, Jeeto longs to find love in her future marriage and perhaps attend college. Neelam's scandalous affair with Hari, who was not selected by their parents or the local matchmaker, only fortifies their mother's efforts to marry Jeeto to someone more appropriate than handsome Pritam. As a historical parallel to this coming-of-age story, Backhaus introduces the chronicle of Jeeto's uncle Avtar, one of the first Indian immigrants to settle in Oak Grove in the 1940s. Avtar has established strong roots and plays a major role in events that affect future family affairs . . . Backhaus's beautiful prose makes this book a welcome addition to other Indian American voices. Like Jhumpa Lahiri in Interpreter of Maladies, Backhaus has excelled at depicting the tension that immigrants and first-generation progeny often experience when tradition clashes with Western ways. Recommended."?Faye A. Chadwell, Library Journal

"This lovely debut novel takes place in California's Central Valley in the late 1970s. Jeeta Rai is the younger daughter of a Punjabi family living among the orchards of Oak Grove, where her uncle Avtar acquired land some 30 years earlier. She grows up between the American and Indian worlds and learns about the perils of balancing love with family tradition through three different love stories: her own, her sister Neelam's, and Avtar's. As the story opens, Neelam is being hurriedly married off to a promising young man from India, despite the fact that she is in love with a local boy. As Jeeta helps Avtar plan a festival commemorating the founding of the first local gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), she learns about his lost first love and how he came to be married to her Aunt Teji. Jeeta has a crush on Pritam, the son of the local matchmaker, but her feelings for him conflict with her family's desires and her own desire to attend the University of California at Berkeley. These stories merge seamlessly into a portrait of a family maintaining its own culture while blending into a new one."?Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, California, School Library Journal

"Backhaus's debut novel explores love, loss and the tangled web of family in the matriarchal Oak Grove, Calif., Sikh community of 1976. Teenage narrator Jeeto is already caught between two worlds, the college-bound crowd of her American classmates and the traditional marriage, arranged by her mother, to an unknown young man from India. Through Jeeto's conflict, Backhaus explores the tension between the traditional and the new in her sister, relatives and neighbors. Uncle Avtar, who fled India for a life of opportunity, loses his heart to an American waitress, but finds his loyalty to the Sikh community pulling him back into the fold. Jeeto's sister, Neelam, in love with a young man of undesirable parentage, passively accepts her arranged marriage to a stranger, while Jeeto's friend Surinder openly rebels against community mores. Intertwined, their stories of loss, connection and the search for identity create a rich, sensuous portrait of a culture in transition."?Publishers Weekly

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  • Fantastic First Novel!
    From Amazon

    An amazing debut novel about a Sikh family in 1970's America struggling to preserve their Indian values and culture, but also to "fit" in the culture of the US. I was drawn in very quickly to Neelam and Jeeto and their day to day lives in school and as they fall in and out of love, graduate from high school and the expectations that they soon face immediately after that. Both girls are faced with the the expectation of marrying young, but also want to learn who they are as individuals. They have friends, fall in love and in the face of tragedy, learn to grow into independent women. Ms. Backhaus also tells readers how the family settled in California as the past is interwoven into the present. The flashbacks are amazing and give valuable insight into the family and their beliefs. As the story progresses, you learn about how the families are connected in more ways then the obvious (I won't spoil the story) and I found myself having a hard time putting the book down. Overall, this is a fantastic first novel for Bhira Backhaus and I can't wait to read what she writes next! For all that are interested in learning about different cultures in the US, this is a great book to pick up. Backhaus' writing is beautiful and it flows very easily from paragraph to paragraph. Highly recommended!

  • And when you think you understand where the story is going......you find out that you don't!
    From Amazon

    In "Under the Lemon Trees," Bhira Backhaus provides an intriguing picture of what it was like to grow up Sikh in agricultural northern California. Most of us have long forgotten the struggle of acculturation, especially for a teenager! The story is interesting and well-crafted throughout, then at about the ¾ point several entirely unexpected subplots are introduced that made it nearly impossible for me to put the book down. A great read!

  • A fun weaving of East and West, past and present
    From Amazon

    I've read a number of Indian American novels, tales of families and tradition, transplants and culture shock. This one was well done. The book was not too maudlin, but still realistic in the ups and downs of the lives of the characters. The language was lush and evocative as you were lead through the stories of the various characters linked by family and tradition. I enjoyed the interweaving of past and present as the tales of several generations were told on top of each other.

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