Synopses & Reviews
For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Mona Simpson, and Jhumpa Lahiri comes a winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past.
With depth, heart, and agility, debut novelist Mira Jacob takes us on a deftly plotted journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an epic, irreverent testimony to the bonds of love, the pull of hope, and the power of making peace with life’s uncertainties.
Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle.
Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina’s rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier. Confronted by Thomas’s unwillingness to explain himself, strange looks from the hospital staff, and a series of puzzling items buried in her mother’s garden, Amina soon realizes that the only way she can help her father is by coming to terms with her family’s painful past. In doing so, she must reckon with the ghosts that haunt all of the Eapens.
Advance praise for The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
“[An] emotionally bountiful debut . . . The author has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger.”—Publishers Weekly
“Punchy, clever, and stuffed with delicious chapatis, Mira Jacob’s first novel jumps effortlessly from India to the States, creating a vibrant portrait of a world in flux.”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure
“The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing seizes the reader early and never lets go. Its electricities reside in Mira Jacob’s acute details and the sadness, anger, and humor of her characters. This novel tells many wonderful stories while also telling, beautifully, the story that counts the most.”—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts
“Mira Jacob has written an utterly dazzling, epic debut. The story of an Indian American family is at once completely relatable and totally fresh. A beautifully timed novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is intricately woven and sparklingly played out, and it triumphs. I did not want this breathtaking book to end.”—Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping
“I read this in one sitting. I couldn’t have stopped—wouldn’t even have noticed—if my house had caught fire. Mira Jacob is a born storyteller and a fantastic writer. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a truly great book.”—Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life
“The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a time-traveling multigenerational saga that still remains intimate in its feel and central focus. For all of its witty and loving attention to the power of familial bonds, it is most eloquent on the subject of a grief so profound that its everyday weight pulls the grievers closer to the dead than to the living. And yet the overall effect, miraculously, is celebratory.”—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
"Toggling back and forth between the early 1980s and late 1990s, Jacob's emotionally bountiful debut immerses us in the lives of Amina Eapen and her extended Indian-American family, who have lived in Albuquerque, N.Mex., since the late 1960s. In 1998, Amina, then age 30, works as a wedding photographer, having given up a promising photojournalism career after a single picture a photo of a Native American activist jumping off a bridge made her notorious. She moved to Seattle to distance herself from her overbearing parents, Kamala and Thomas, but returns home after learning that Thomas, a surgeon, has begun acting strangely. She plans to make it a short trip but decides to stay after her father is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This extended visit forces Amina to confront anew the death of her older brother Akhil, who committed suicide as a teenager, and to rekindle her romance with Jamie Anderson, whose sister was Akhil's girlfriend. The author has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger. Although overlong, the novel, through its lovingly created and keenly observed characters, makes something new of the Indian immigrant experience in America. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Mira Jacob is the founder of Pete’s Reading Series in New York City and has an MFA from the New School for Social Research. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is her first novel.
1. The book starts in India, but doesn’t go back. Why do you think the author chose to open the book there?
2. Why do you think Amina was unhinged by taking the picture of Bobby McCloud? Do you believe her own explanation?
3. What do you think compelled Amina to photograph the worst moments at the wedding?
4. Sanji is presented as different than the rest of the adults in the Albuquerque “family.” What might make her different and why?
5. Kamala is a very polarizing character in the book. Were you drawn to or repelled by her? How do you think the author feels about her?
6. Kamala and Amina seem at odds most of the time, but what traits do they have in common?
7. Amina uses the camera to express herself. Kamala uses her cooking. Is there anything that you use (cooking, art, music, work) to connect to your world and the people in your life?
8. Akhil is angry with America in a way that Amina isn’t. What is the source of his anger?
9. If Akhil had lived longer, who else would he have painted on his ceiling?
10. Do you think Sunil was really sleepwalking when he set fire to the house?
11. All of the Eapens go through tremendous change, though Amina’s are more subtle than most. What is the biggest change in Amina’s personality?
12. If Jamie and Amina hadn’t shared their past, do you think she would have been able to trust him?
13. When Thomas sees Akhil, he believes it’s a genuine visit, not a side effect of his tumor. When Amina sees Akhil, she thinks it’s a symptom of her depression. Which explanation are you more inclined to believe?
14. What invention do you imagine Thomas was last working on?
15. Why do you think the author titled her novel The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing?