By Eilene Zimmerman
The characters who people Sanjay Nigam’s second novel, Transplanted Man (William Morrow, $24.95), are largely Indian immigrants, all affected in some way by displacement and movement. Set in Manhattan’s Little India neighborhood, the book centers around Sunit “Sonny” Seth, a brilliant but depressed medical resident at a New York hospital serving the Indian community. Sonny functions in this novel much as a spider at the center of a web—he pulls characters toward him, and they, in turn, spin off subplots. Early on, he becomes entangled in the case of a well-known Indian politician nicknamed “transplanted man” because nearly every organ in his body has been replaced. Treatment of the transplanted man—and the politics surrounding him—becomes the backdrop for many, many other stories.
Nigam, a UCSD doctor, makes it all fit. But the reading can be frustrating at times because of what seem, at first, to be unrelated plot twists and dialogue that’s sometimes stilted—perhaps a function of Indians trying to sound American. His characters, however, are the novel’s strong point—wild and fascinating. There’s Gwen, the beautiful British nurse with an overactive libido (which Nigam irritatingly calls her “disease”); a homeless, near-catatonic man who roams the neighborhood; and an insomniac sleep researcher searching for a cure for insomnia.
The stories are often funny, but they make serious points about the immigrant experience. At the respective cores of these characters, we sense a gnawing longing to be somewhere else or with someone else or doing something else.
Watching U.S. Marines on television smoking cigars in Saddam Hussein’s palaces, it’s tough to grasp the longer-term consequences and meaning of war. But Chet Cunningham’s new book, Hell Wouldn’t Stop: An Oral History of the Battle of Wake Island (Carroll & Graf, $26), offers readers a dose of perspective. The reality of war is that it’s a living hell, and nothing speaks that truth better than the words of soldiers.
Cunningham has reconstructed—through the testimony of the sailors, marines and soldiers who survived it—the 16-day battle in December 1941 for Wake Island, a tiny, strategically important island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His older brother, Kenneth, was one of the marines who fought in the battle, and he spent 44 months in Japanese P.O.W. camps. In researching this book, Cunningham communicated with 69 Wake Island survivors. Their words, interspersed with his narrative, make a riveting, if horrifying, history.
These men are all heroes and their stories long overdue. It is a chilling reminder that what happens in combat—and afterward—is generally not what we see on CNN.
Also Out from Local Authors
The Brontë Family: Passionate Literary Geniuses (Lerner Publications, $25.26): Karen Smith Kenyon’s lively, interesting account of the famous Brontë siblings—Charlotte, Emily, Anne (all three were successful female writers in Victorian England) and brother Branwell—is filled with scenes and stories of their lives, accompanied by photographs, drawings and paintings. Based in La Jolla, Kenyon also teaches writing at MiraCosta College.
High Trust Selling (Thomas Nelson Publishers, $22.95): San Diegan Todd Duncan’s fourth book offers tools and advice for sales success. He focuses on 14 laws he says govern the sales profession and personal development—which Duncan believes are inextricably linked.
Trinity’s Daughter (Ivy House, $21.95): Rancho Santa Fe writer Betty Bird’s first novel is the story of Byra Fitzgibbons, a young girl swept into adulthood at 16 after witnessing her father’s suicide. Byra’s life is filled with tragedy and disappointment that ultimately come to define her. Hardships aside, this is an entertaining book, but in trying to cover so much ground in just 232 pages, Bird’s writing lacks depth; her old-fashioned style is cloying and corny.
Lauren McGill’s Pickle Museum (Harcourt, $16): The best thing about Jerdine Nolen’s latest children’s book is the sweetly funny illustrations by Escondido artist Debra Tilley. The story focuses on Lauren McGill, whose love of pickles makes her feel special. After a field trip to a pickle factory, where her fellow students discover their own briny love, Lauren fears she’s not so special anymore. The moral—that sharing her love and knowledge about pickles with others continues to make Lauren unique—is a big stretch.