WHAT, EXACTLY—“right here, right now, today, in the twenty-first century US of A,” as the rap song goes in HM Naqvi’s Home Boy—is the American Dream?
Tania James offers us one version of it early in her novel—a display, for those deep in Kerala’s backwaters, of America’s desirability. Melvin Vallara, trying to explain to his daughter, Linno, why America is self-evidently good, remembers his friend Eastern Bobby who migrated to Normal, Illinois, and on a trip back home nailed a white mundu to a wall and projected a home video featuring the contents of his American fridge: “a giant jug of milk, a blue carton of twelve perfect eggs, a brick of yellow cheese, and a box with several sticks of butter. In the freezer: a slab of steak and a whole chicken, beheaded and plucked, sitting upright like the guest of honour.” This, in the minds of James’ characters, is America.
When the teenage Anju Melvin, Vallara’s other daughter, makes it to New York, she discovers that the dream is for real; on her first day in the city she licks a bar of kiwi soap because it smells good enough to eat: