A Novel for Our Times

For more than 10 years, Synergy School’s annual Women’s Literary Dinner fundraiser has been fortunate to host many stellar Bay Area women authors, including Mary Roach, Lalita Tademy, Nayomi Munaweera, and Elizabeth Weil. The dinner, first started by Synergy Alum Parents Connie Matthiesson and Janis Newman, starts with drinks and appetizers followed by a buffet before moving into the author’s reading and discussion.

This year, we were lucky to host Shanthi Sekaran, author of the new novel, Lucky Boy. A timely book, Lucky Boy highlights contentious immigration and class issues in a way that is more than just decorative backdrop. These issues provide essential and disturbing complications for the story’s premise: two women fighting for the right to raise one child.

Soli, the birth mother, an 18-year-old, undocumented and unmarried immigrant in the U.S., works as a nanny-housekeeper for a Berkeley family. Then there’s Kavya, an affluent, 30-something daughter of successful Indian immigrants who made California their home in the 1970s. She has given up on conceiving a child of her own and is now desperate to adopt.

Although the book’s subject matter is serious and often harsh when it comes to describing Soli’s experiences as she makes her way through Mexico and across the border to the U.S., these scenes are woven through the narrative as flashbacks and leavened skillfully with humor. Sekaran described studying pages of Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved, to understand exactly how Morrison had created a nonlinear temporal structure. She then put what she had learned to good use in Lucky Boy.

When Sekaran turns her gaze to Bay Area culture, she often does so with irony. Her honest depiction of liberal Berkeley citizens, Silicon Valley tech culture, and the privileged lives of many Bay Area residents may bring more than smile or two from readers. But a deeper, richer current flows through the story, one that leads to questions about how motherhood is defined, what constitutes the best interests of a child, and who should make these decisions.

In addition, given the current state of immigration upheaval in the U.S., Lucky Boy is certain to raise even more questions about longstanding failures related to immigration detention, deportation, and the fate of children of undocumented immigrants. Sekaran was first motivated to write this story after hearing about a Guatemalan woman who was deported, and in the process lost the rights to raise her son.

Horrified by this account, Sekaran interviewed the woman’s lawyer and other immigration attorneys to make sure she got the details right. She also learned enough Spanish to visit rural areas of Oaxaca; shadowed a chef for a sorority at Berkeley; read immigration policy reports; and talked with social workers, adoptive parents, and infertility specialists as part of her research.

Thankfully, Sekaran doesn’t try to answer the many questions she raises in Lucky Boy. Instead, she presents an engaging and moving story that leaves readers responsible for finding their own answers.

Tickets to the Women’s Literary Evening are available each year through the school’s auction. If you’re interested in organizing and hosting a women’s literary dinner in future years, please contact Liz McDonald.

–By Jilanne Hoffmann, Synergy Parent

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