Book: Everybody’s Son
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Thrity Umrigar, an Indian- American journalist and the winner of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and a 2006 finalist for the PEN/ Beyond Margins Award, who relocated to the US at the age of 21 from India, has deftly explored in this book how racism can exist without one even realizing about it. Everybody’s Son is an example of powerful and uncomplicated writing which pushes your borders and leaves you at the edge of a mountain top. The only option you have is to jump. And jump you will, into Anton’s world – the main character in the novel.
There is not much suspense in waiting. The story has been told in the dust jacket itself. And yet what’s surprising is how the reader is dying to know what happens next or rather, how Anton’s life unfurls with Harvard-educated son of a U.S. senator, Judge David Coleman (a scion of north-eastern white privilege) and his wife Delores having replaced his birth mom Juanita, thanks to a terrible heat wave in 1991 that led to nine-year old Anton having to break free from the apartment he used to live in with his mom.
He was covered in blood when the police found him. Juanita was found in a crack house less than three blocks away, nearly unconscious and half-naked. When she does regain consciousness, she repeatedly asks for her ‘baby boy’, which tells the reader about the mother’s concern for her child and the bond she shared with Anton. And yet, Anton is placed in child services and Juanita goes to jail.
Judge David Coleman, still coping with the tragic death of his teenage son, is desperate to have a child in the house again. With his power and connections, he manages to keep his foster son with him and his wife. Or does he? Will his decision have ‘devastating’ consequences in the years to come? Or will everything fall in place, like stories usually do?
The best thing I found in this book as a reader is the description of the turmoil faced by each character. It churns your insides at times, and at others, it makes you want to simply sit and enjoy the countryside with Anton and reflect on life in all its sugar-dripping sweetness and utterly bitter glory.
The debate on racism and the nuances of it has been dealt with in a surprisingly mature and intellectual manner that invites the reader for a twirl and does not let her stop the dance midway. You will be taught new steps and then you have the world as your stage – for you to set it on fire. An interesting part is the meeting between Catherine (Anton’s college sweetheart) and Pappy (David Coleman’s father). Their conversation is worth reading. And strangely, that is when the difference between the so- called whites and blacks is put forth in black and white, complete with the grey areas.
The balance struck between the feelings and actions of Juanita and Anton’s foster parents is something that makes it difficult for the reader to take sides. Reading this book makes human relations seem amazingly bittersweet and worth every trouble and pain.
There is Juanita — a mother who can go to any lengths to makes sure that he is safe and brought up in comfort and luxury that she might never be able to provide for her son if she were to bring him up on her own. And yet, would life have been better for Anton if he had grown up with her — away from the motley group of friends and family that he could call his ‘own’ because of an affluent family that decided to give Anton a new and seemingly better life?
How would life have turned out for a coloured child of a woman whose whereabouts were often dangerous for a growing up child? But what about her love for her son then? Isn’t love enough?
These and many more questions await you — to make you smile, make you tear up and also to soothe you with that wonderful thing called ‘a tale that lasts’.
Thrity Umrigar is definitely an author to watch out for. With The Space Between Us, The World We Found, The Weight of Heaven and The Story Hour in her kitty as an author, Everybody’s Son has what essentially makes us burn with rage and fuels news headlines – class, race and politics. And Everybody’s Son ‘who belongs to no one’, in the words of his creator, is a powerful character fit to open many eyes in the 21st century.