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The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing: A Novel Hardcover – July 1, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This atmospheric behemoth of a book, Jacob’s ambitious first novel, follows the fortunes of the Eapens, an Indian American family dealing with tragedy and loss. Told from the perspective of daughter Amina, a 30-year-old professional photographer, the book moves backward and forward in time from 1979, which finds the Eapens on a visit to India; to 1983, when tragedy first strikes the family, now living in Albuquerque, New Mexico; to 1998, when that same tragedy, which involved Amina’s firebrand older brother, Akhil, revisits the family as Amina’s father, Thomas, faces a possibly terminal illness. Jacob has written a closely observed, scrupulously detailed story of an extended family dealing with the difficulties of living in America and with each other. That the past is always present in their lives provides a dramatic tension that at once brings them together and threatens to drive them apart. Jacob has done an excellent job of balancing these elements as she has created a memorable and dramatic portrait of a family in flux. --Michael Cart


“With wit and a rich understanding of human foibles, [Mira] Jacob unspools a story that will touch your heart.”—People
“Jacob’s novel is light and optimistic, unpretentious and refreshingly witty. Jacob has created characters with evident care and treats them with gentleness even as they fight viciously with each other. Her prose is sharp and true and deeply funny. . . . This is the literary fiction I will be recommending to everyone this summer, especially those who love multigenerational, multicultural family sagas.”—Associated Press
“This debut novel so fully envelops the reader in the soul of an Indian-American immigrant family that it's heart-wrenching to part with them. . . . Thanks to Jacob’s captivating voice, which is by turns hilarious and tender and always attuned to shifts of emotion, her characters shimmer with life. [Grade:] A-”Entertainment Weekly

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a rich, engrossing debut told with lightness and care, as smart about grief as it is about the humor required to transcend it.”—The Kansas City Star 

“[A] sprawling, poignant, often humorous novel that’s worth missing cocktails on the deck in order to finish a chapter . . . Told with humor and sympathy for its characters, the book serves as a bittersweet lesson in the binding power of family, even when we seek to break out from it.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“Beautifully wrought, frequently funny, gently heartbreaking . . . Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow, and she is remarkably adept at tonal shifts. When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things.”—The Boston Globe

“Always engrossing and often feels so true to life that it’s a surprise that it’s not.”—The Austin Chronicle

“Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; . . . both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Jacob] has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger.”Publishers Weekly
“Jacob’s writing is refreshing, and she excels at creating a powerful bond between the reader and her characters, all wonderfully drawn and with idiosyncratic natures—the mother, Kamala, for instance, is a born-again Christian—that make them enchanting. Recommended for those who like engaging fiction that succeeds in addressing serious issues with some humor.”Library Journal
“A memorable and dramatic portrait of a family in flux.”Booklist

“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
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an effortlessly gorgeous and rich book. Its prose is lovely and precise, alternately luminous and direct; its observations of people and families and the physical world are poignant and a delight. The dialogue is sharp, funny, and true. This is a triumphant debut!”—Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir!
“What a thrill to discover Mira Jacob, a warm, witty new voice in American fiction. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is both rich and wise. I savored every page.”—Amanda Eyre Ward, author of How to Be Lost

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (July 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812994787
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812994780
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (208 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By O. Brown HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This epic novel does indeed span multiple generations of an Indian family--but it does not involve any "time travel"--instead it suspensefully alternates between the past and the present as the reader gets to see--bit by big--this Indian family now living in American evolve, grow, and weather changes and challenges. In going back and forth (between the 70's and the late 90's) in chapter sections, the reader becomes captivated by the story line of this psychological drama and wonders what will happen next. I could hardly put the book down as I became more and more aware of what really occurred years ago and what was actually occurring now.

The novel started very, very slowly for me. I have no intrinsic interest in the Indian culture and wondered if I would continue with it. Then everything changed for me and I was drawn in. I fell in love with this big family, and most of all with the main characters. I loved seeing the differences in the generations as the plot unfolded and family secrets were revealed.

I found the writing style of the author to be stunning--I actually got a highlighter and began marking sentences that were so beautiful I knew I would want to read them again...or they captured something so well I couldn't believe it. I don't normally highlight novels!

This book is almost 500 satisfying pages. Even if the brief descriptions of this novel don't grab you--if you enjoy reading about families and their emotions, family secrets, thrilling epics that keep you up at night, or psychological novels, you will love this. If you enjoy that feeling of satisfaction that comes from a novel that feeds your heart, soul, and mind--one that will stay with you and that you won't want to give away afterwards, this is the book for you.

Highly, highly recommended.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Yours Truly VINE VOICE on May 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Mira Jacob’s novel opens in Seattle where Amina Eapen gets a call from her mother, Kamala, in Albuquerque, saying that something is seriously wrong with her adored surgeon father, Thomas, who keeps talking to family members who are no longer alive. Putting aside her wedding photography assignments, Amina flies home to investigate.

Although Amina and her brother, Akhil, were born in America, their parents were raised in India and came to the States over the objections of Thomas’s mother. The novel is set in three locations and got off to a very slow start for me. But because it was praised by writers I respect, I persisted, and I agree that this is a remarkable debut.

Even for educated, affluent individuals, immigration can be an earth-shaking dislocation, and Ms. Jacob toggles between Albuquerque, Seattle and Salem, India, to connect the origins of the family’s suffering. She excels at illuminating the specifics of her characters’ pain. It seems inevitable that she will be compared with Jhumpa Lahiri (The Namesake, The Lowlands), but Jacobs has a distinctive, caring and witty voice and point view. She is particularly good at nailing the irritation family members create for each other without disturbing the underlying bonds they share. She is not yet a master of narrative, which I think sprawls a bit too loosely, but she meets the test at the saga’s crucial points in nailing the complicated reactions of the characters to trauma, of which there is plenty, and to the everyday.

For me, the book grew more compelling as I read on, and the last several hundred pages were riveting. These are characters I found not only believable but enduring, as if they were people I knew and cared about.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author's note, at the end of the book, echoes the overarching themes:

..."what it means, as an immigrant, to make a life in a stolen country."

This luminous, addictive, page-turning, character-driven, and first-rate storytelling held me in its thrall from beginning to end. Yes, it had echoes of Jhumpa Lahiri (by virtue of evoking the Indian-American experience), and it also at times echoes Richard Ford's CANADA, as well as Richard Russo, John Irving, and any number of master storytellers that tell an epic story about family. I applaud Mira Jacob's decade-long investment in writing this book, as it gave me a few days of unadulterated bliss. I didn't want to say goodbye to the Eapen family when I turned the last page; at times, I felt them brushing against my arm, cupping my elbow, and feeding me samosas and chutney.

The nuclear family here is Thomas Eapen, a neurosurgeon, Kamala, his wife, their intellectually gifted son, Akhil, and their photographer daughter, Amina. Only Amina was born in America. Through most of the novel, they live in Albuquerque, although Amina, as an adult, now lives in Seattle and works as an events photographer, after leaving the serious business of photojournalism. The novel alternates back and forth between the early 80's and 1998, but the offstage history is woven in seamlessly. I don't want to reveal more of the story than is told in the book jacket. There's a lot of discovery that is meant for the reader to unearth. And, even though a tragedy is revealed early on (in a handful of words), the narrative keeps you on tenterhooks until you actually get there, hundreds of pages later.

This isn't a book with political polemics or sermons about social justice--but there is a lot of delicious Indian food that made me hungry.
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