From the author of the prize-winning collection Quarantine, an insightful, compelling debut novel set in rural America and India in the 1980s and ’90s, part coming-of-age story about a gay Indian American boy, part family saga about an immigrant family’s struggles to find a sense of belonging, identity, and hope.
In a rural community in Western New York, twelve-year-old Kiran Shah, the American-born son of Indian immigrants, longingly observes his prototypically American neighbors, the Bells. He attends school with Kelly Bell, but he’s powerfully drawn—in a way he does not yet understand—to her charismatic father, Chris.
Kiran’s yearnings echo his parents’ bewilderment as they try to adjust to a new world. His father, Nishit Shah, a successful doctor, is haunted by thoughts of the brother he left behind. His mother, Shanti, struggles to accept a life with a man she did not choose—her marriage to Nishit was arranged—and her growing attachment to an American man. Kiran is close to his older sister, Preeti—until an unexpected threat and an unfathomable betrayal drive a wedge between them that will reverberate through their lives.
As he leaves childhood behind, Kiran finds himself perpetually on the outside—as an Indian American torn between two cultures and as a gay man in a homophobic society. In the wake of an emotional breakdown, he travels to India, where he forms an intense bond with a teenage hijra, a member of India’s ancient transgender community. With her help, Kiran begins to pull together the pieces of his broken past.
Sweeping and emotionally complex, No Other World is a haunting meditation on love, belonging, and forgiveness that explores the line between our responsibilities to our families and to ourselves, the difficult choices we make, and the painful cost of claiming our true selves.
In this meandering coming-of-age novel, Mehta (Quarantine) follows a gay Indian-American man's struggle to quell his childhood demons. Though 12-year-old Kiran's parents are assimilated enough to fuel their traditional puja lamp with Crisco rather than ghee, he still doesn't quite fit. Instead of taking the bus from school, "he walked. Two hours. Three hours. Sometimes four." When Kiran's sister, Preeti, begins dating a white kid, Shawn, he listens to their phone calls, delighted by how Shawn's voice runs through his "small boy body, resonating, filling his chest." He begins his own, proto-sexual relationship with Shawn, and because of it does nothing when he finds nearly naked Preeti in the woods, where Shawn left her tied to a tree with a jump rope. The relationship between Kiran's guilt and his sexuality becomes evident as the story continues with his struggles in college and adulthood, when his parents force him to return to India following his "unraveling" in New York. But Mehta's discursive style allows little room to dwell on Kiran's quest for redemption, and instead follows the lesser dramas that bloat the book. All of the characters do share with Kiran "the desire, if only fleeting, to live another life," one where they had made different choices, but little is added by each, in turn, being forced to accept the impossibility of doing so. As Kiran writes in his coming-out letter to his parents, "things are the way they are."