The Melting Pot, expanded, or my review of Born Confused

Born Confused

Born Confused

By: Tanuja Desai Hidier 

Publisher: Push

Publication Date: October 1st, 2002

Format: Kindle Book

synopsis

Cross-cultural comedy about finding your place in America . . . and finding your heart wherever, from an amazing new young author.

Dimple Lala doesn’t know what to think. She’s spent her whole life resisting her parents’ traditions. But now she’s turning seventeen and things are more complicated than ever. She’s still recovering from a year-old break-up and her best friend isn’t around the way she used to be. Then, to make matters worse, her parents arrange for her to meet a “suitable boy.” Of course, it doesn’t go well . . . until Dimple goes to a club and finds him spinning a magical web of words and music. Suddenly the suitable boy is suitable because of his sheer unsuitability. Complications ensue.

This is a story about finding yourself, finding your friends, finding love, and finding your culture — sometimes where you least expect it.

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review

This book is a consistent favorite of mine, and one that I treat more or less as an old friend. I can’t count how many times I’ve read it, but every time I do it warms the cockles of my heart. It’s a fun, sweet, silly book about growing up in America, and growing up with multiple cultural identities, and also how to deal with a wonky love triangle between you, your best friend, and the boy your parents want you to marry.

First of all, Dimple is a treat of a narrator. She’s a curvy, dark-skinned, uncertain teenager standing bemusedly on the cusp of adulthood. Her voice is fun, sweet, occasionally self-deprecating but also able to appreciate irony. Her relationship with her parents is funny, her relationship with her best friend Gwen is contentious, and her relationship with the unsuitably suitable Karsh Kapoor is a roller coaster.

However, what I really like about Dimple is that she grows and changes throughout the book. In the first few chapters she’s desperately trying to fit in, wearing miniskirts and drinking and going on unfortunate double dates because Gwen coaxes her along. She has a difficult relationship with her heritage, at times falling back on her Indianness, but more often trying to ignore it or push it aside. Her parents, however, are insistent that she go along with them, especially on the meeting a ‘suitable boy’ who Dimple rejects just because her parents like him.

What changes is Dimple’s and Gwen’s entry into the world of Hot Pot, an Indian club where drag queens dominate, Sikh boys breakdance, lesbians bartend, and where Karsh, DJ extraordinaire, makes it all happen. Hot Pot starts off a search into Indian culture for both Dimple and Gwen–they take the summer to wander through Little India, attend a workshop at Columbia on India and Indian culture, and take advantage of Dimple’s mom for lessons on cooking, saris and general Indian things. Dimple comes to really appreciate her culture, both American and Indian, and feel at home with both in a way that provides a stark contrast from the beginning of the book. What I’ve also come to enjoy through repeated readings is the skeptical look at Gwen’s foray into Indian culture, the question of what is appropriation and is it right for Gwen to immerse herself in a culture that isn’t hers, but that ultimately there doesn’t seem to be a right answer.

I also love how, in some ways, Dimple’s journey into Indian culture is synonymous with a foray into LGBTQ+ culture. She’s fairly firmly hetero herself, but as she grows closer to her cousin Kavita, she learns to accept that Kavita is a lesbian, and counsels her through a bad breakup. Similarly, Dimple’s relationship with the sparkling Zara Thrusta is another lens of her exploration of Indian culture, one that provides a startling richness. It also sheds light on cultural assumptions, both positive and negative, of LGBTQ+ peoples and how they’re perceived throughout the world.

In fact, there’s so much lovely nuance to Dimple’s journey into Indian culture. She comes to learn more about her parents, partially through Karsh’s mother, and begins to understand what they’ve sacrificed over the course of their lives. She develops a more positive impression of her body, and learns to love and appreciate it rather than comparing it to Gwen’s. She learns more about her friend than she dared to question before, and despite their difficult relationship throughout the book, the final understanding of Gwen is with sympathy and kindness. And finally, Dimple learns to accept and find herself worthy of Karsh’s love for her. Bonus, she’s a fantastic photographer and her furtherment of her photography provides another aspect of her exploration of her culture.

This book was fairly formative for my adolescent years, when I felt as if I was struggling with a similar cultural conundrum, but I think it’ll be highly enjoyable to any reader. Although there is a sequel out, I’m honestly reluctant to read it, in case it somehow spoils the magic of Born Confused.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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