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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hajratwala, a journalist at the San Jose Mercury News, tells of the Indian diaspora experience through a part-personal, part-reported story of her extended family. Hailing from the small northwest Indian region of Gujarat, her family's ancient origins begin with the myth of a race of warriors and kings. Their migration begins in the wake of the famine of 1899, when Hajratwala's great-grandfather Motiram left to learn the tailor's craft in Fiji, leaving his wife and children behind. In the same, tireless spirit echoed in generations to come, Motiram founded a family business in his new home, then built it with the support of relatives who followed to join him. His shop eventually became one of the largest department stores in the South Pacific isles. Other family branches developed in South Africa; the U.S., where Hajratwala's parents immigrated as part of India's earliest wave of brain drain; and other locales, totaling nine countries in five continents. Throughout sojourns across cultures and across time, the family endures—and succeeds—in spite of discrimination and bigotry. Told with the probing detail of a reporter, the fluid voice of a poet and the inspired vision of a young woman who walks in many worlds, Hajratwala's story offers an engaging account of what may be one of the fastest-growing diasporas in the world. (Mar.)
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"In LEAVING INDIA, Minal Hajratwala deftly explores [the India] diaspora... LEAVING INDIA is meticulously researched and evocatively written."--Washington Post

"LEAVING INDIA is a rich, entertaining and illuminating story." --San Francisco Chronicle

"I love Minal Hajratwala's book LEAVING INDIA. It is what I imagine India itself to be like: incomparable, sprawling, rich, surprising, very old and wise and forever capable of re-creating itself, no matter where pieces of it lands. Minal Hajratwala is a fine daughter of the continent, bringing insight, intelligence and compassion to the lives and sojourns of her far-flung kin. For those of us who have needed to understand the presence of so many Indians in our various lands, this book is a wonderful primer." –Alice Walker

"Minal Hajratwala's LEAVING INDIA is a fascinating history that kept me up late into the night--and I suspect it will do the same for most readers. Filled with amazing and compelling family stories, it will strike a chord in anyone whose people have come from elsewhere--and today, in America, that's most of us! I am filled with admiration at Minal's honesty and the careful beauty of her language. I learned so much, through the story of this one family, about the tragedies and triumphs of the Indian diaspora."--Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of The Palace of Illusions

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (March 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618251294
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,863,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


a unicorn of many colors, but a poet at heart. Her first poetry collection, Bountiful Instructions for Enlightenment, includes poems and the script for her theatrical poetry extravaganza, "Avatars: Gods for a New Millennium," which was commissioned by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco for World AIDS Day in 1999. It is published by The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, which publishes contemporary poetry books from India under a collective mentorship model.

In 2009, her nonfiction epic Leaving India: My Family's Journey From Five Villages to Five Continents came out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It was called "incomparable" by Alice Walker and "searingly honest" by the Washington Post. The book won a Pen USA Award, an Asian American Writers Workshop Award, a Lambda Literary Award, a California Book Award (Silver, Nonfiction), and was shortlisted for the Saroyan International Writing Prize. Minal spent seven years researching and writing the book, traveling the world to interview more than seventy-five members of her extended family.

Minal spent 2010-11 as a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar in India researching her next book, a novel. During that time she also connected with the LGBT movement in India and edited a groundbreaking anthology, Out! Stories From the New Queer India, which was published by a Mumbai independent press, Queer Ink, in 2013.

Her creative work has received recognition and support from the Sundance Institute, the Jon Sims Center for the Arts, the SerpentSource Foundation, the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and the Hedgebrook writing retreat for women, where she has served on the Alumnae Leadership Council.

As a writing coach, Ms. Hajratwala believes language is magical, and she loves helping individuals and organizations access the power to express themselves in words. She is the creatrix of Blueprint Your Book, an intensive and inspiring six-lesson program for manuscript development; and Writing from the Chakras, a body-based system that leads to fast, energized, powerful breakthroughs by tapping the seven levels of human experience that make up rich, versatile writing. She has taught writing workshops nationally and internationally at universities, community organizations, and online, including as a 2012 memoir faculty member at the Voices of Our Nations Arts summer program for writers of color on the University of California-Berkeley campus.

As a journalist, she worked at the San Jose Mercury News from 1992 to 2000 as an editor, reporter, and the newspaper's first reader representative (ombudsperson). She is a graduate of Stanford University and held a National Arts Journalism Program fellowship in the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in 2000-01.

Customer Reviews

I read this book easily in one day because it was so absorbing.
Lynn Ellingwood
In this book the author traces her family history and tells the story of the Indian diaspora.
Andrew Parodi
Also the bit about her lesbian thing seemed too much like the "woe is me" syndrome.
Kersi Von Zerububbel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Connie G Scammell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a review of the Advanced Reading Copy (ARC).

I know very little about India so I was anxious to read about an Indian's family history. This book did not disappoint. I file this book with the many other multicultural readings I have done in the past year. One learns about Hindu culture and is exposed to racial discrimination done to and from the Indians across the globe.

This memoir is a wonderful literary work of the Indian diaspora, of which I knew so little about before embarking on this wonderful memoir.

The chapter begins with Minal's great-grandfather Motiram who sailed to Fiji as a coolie (indentured servant) to work as a weaver and died as a business owner there, a victim of the global influenza epidemic of 1918.

Further chapters then, logically continue the family tree: how other relatives ended up in South Africa, Los Angles, Chicago and Michigan and San Francisco where the contemporary history ends with her generation fighting cultural tensions between Old and New World.

Minal conducted an incredible amount of history for this book and weaves it well between family members. Some passages are sprinkled with speculations based on historical events of the time. All of her history, however, starts with old family legends and lore that she researched further for this book.

As for the ARC I have some recommendations: place a larger map of India at the front of the book, showing India's provinces. It helps to know that Minal's family started in the western Indian province of Gujarat, which borders Pakistan. (The much smaller global map in the back of the book does not clearly show this). Also, have family photos scattered across the book rather than in the front.
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Format: Hardcover
Minal Hajratwala set out to write a book about her family in one year. Seven years and many international miles later, she completed the task. Piecing together her memories and scattered partial records including horoscopes, postcards and photographs, and visiting across the globe with as many of her family members as she could, Hajratwala became an explorer, mapping both the outer and inner lives of a huge clan and, with them, her own.

Through the vast scope of this book and its particularities, we learn that Indians wherever they find themselves generally work hard. Leaving a harsh life of poverty in Gujerat, Hajratwala's grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles did not shrink from doing menial work that would have been considered undignified back home. They did not let anything stand in the way of their determination of furthering the aims of the extended family, even if it meant never seeing the family again --- husband leaving wife, children leaving parents. The author herself was an immigrant by age five, going with her family from New Zealand, which she thought of as home, to migrate to the U.S. to live among relatives she had never met before. She has close family in South Africa, Hong Kong and Canada.

One of the reasons for such far-flung upheavals was the British Empire and its ceaseless need for laborers to expand new colonial opportunities. Indian labor was shipped at a per head price to Fiji, to Africa, to anywhere it was required to keep the Empire humming. Once there, a laborer became attached to the new environment and, like Hajratwala's family, set up not one shop but many, built homes, developed neighborhoods and left a permanent mark on large communities.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kristy Lin Billuni on April 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've waited far too long to post this, perhaps because I had another identity crisis when I sat down to write it. I've written a few "reviews" of writing projects on this blog, all of which have been positive. And I realize that when you are writing 100% positive reviews, you are not so much a reviewer or a critic and more of a promoter.

And when I read back through previous Amazon reviews, I see that I am no critic. That's probably because when I love a book enough to write about it, I am not critical. I am in love. I loved Drew Banks's first two novel's and MJ Hahn's amazing podcast. I wrote about them and called what I wrote reviews.

But they are not reviews; they are love letters! The Sexy Grammarian is not a critic. She is a teacher. And a lover.

So, I now sit with pen in hand (yes, I do draft most of my blog posts in ink) to write a well-deserved love letter to the incredible and beautiful book, Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala.

Every family should have a Minal, a member who records the family story with involved passion that can only come from the inside of a family but also sits back and observes, to give us a journalistic, even critical view. She tells the story of her extended family and its scattering of people and how that fits into the greater diaspora from India to all over the world.

Minal's writing lilts and then reports, questions and then critiques. She is a historian, a romance writer, a gossip, an academic, and a researcher, all at once. Perhaps that's why her book has been nominated for both a Lambda Literary Award and a California Book Award.
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