Passage West: A Novel (Hardcover)
A Recommended Book from BookRiot, Bustle, The Millions and Teen Vogue
A Los Angeles Times BEST CALIFORNIA BOOK of 2020 * A New England Independent Booksellers' 2020 NEW ENGLAND BOOK AWARD FINALIST
A sweeping, vibrant first novel following a family of Indian sharecroppers at the onset of World War I, revealing a little-known part of California history
1914: Ram Singh arrives in the Imperial Valley on the Mexican border, reluctantly accepting his friend Karak’s offer of work and partnership in a small cantaloupe farm. Ram is unmoored; fleeing violence in Oregon, he desperately longs to return to his wife and newborn son in Punjab—but he is duty bound to make his fortune first.
In the Valley, American settlement is still new and the rules are ever shifting. Alongside Karak; Jivan and his wife, Kishen; and Amarjeet, a U.S. soldier, Ram struggles to farm in the unforgiving desert. When he meets an alluring woman who has fought in Mexico’s revolution, he strives to stay true to his wife. The Valley is full of settlers hailing from other cities and different continents. The stakes are high and times are desperate—just one bad harvest or stolen crop could destabilize a family. And as anti- immigrant sentiment rises among white residents, the tensions of life in the west finally boil over.
In her ambitious debut novel, Rishi Reddi, award-winning author of Karma and Other Stories, explores an enduring question: Who is welcome in America? Richly imagined and beautifully rendered, Passage West offers a moving portrait of one man’s search for home.
About the Author
Rishi Reddi is the author of the collection Karma and Other Stories, which received the 2008 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for fiction. Her work appears in Best American Short Stories, has been broadcast on National Public Radio, and was chosen for honorable mention in the Pushcart Prize. She was born in Hyderabad, India, and grew up in Great Britain and the United States. She lives in Cambridge, MA.
"Audacious . . . Reddi has produced a social novel in the broadest sense, leading us to make connections beyond the page. Such connections stretch beyond California, requiring us to think about—to reimagine—the history of immigration in the United States."
— David L. Ulin, Alta
“Reddi is a talented writer with a gift for pacing — she knows how to employ suspense to keep readers turning pages.”
— Los Angeles Times
“In Passage West, Reddi expertly navigates decades of rich history through the eyes of multiple characters. . . Passage West lays out the foundation for American society today.”
“Rishi Reddi takes ‘epic’ to the next level with this untold PoC history of California. Passage West is a novel of California, of the U.S.-Mexico border, and of America, that you probably had no idea you needed in your life. . . . Reddi’s prose, measured and with exquisite attention to sonics of accents and multiple languages, [is] a pleasure.”
— Electric Literature
“Reddi takes up the lives of Punjabi farmers in California . . . Passage West is also a story of the pull of old ties; the urgency and desperation to seek love, make connections and prove oneself, so as to belong in this different world that has, inadvertently or otherwise, become home. . . . Reddi's novel is visual and resounds with vibrant pulsating drama.”
"Vibrant. . . . This wise and wonderfully written novel, reminiscent of John Steinbeck’s best, shines a light on a little-known facet of American history. . . . It speaks to the question of what it means to be American, of who belongs, and, most importantly, how we can do better as a nation at guaranteeing the basic human rights and dignities of everyone who lives and works on this soil. . . . Ms. Reddi is a tremendous talent."
— Criminal Element
“Riveting . . . . An enthralling and dramatic story . . . Passage West informs the reader at great depth about the history of Indian, Japanese, and Mexican immigrants in California without breaking the spell of the narrative.”
— High Country News
“A richly layered historical novel that tells the stories of ordinary people living in extraordinary times . . . Reddi is a meticulous researcher, history buff and, like her character Ram, a fascinating storyteller. She skillfully embeds the ubiquitous bigotry of the time in her narrative. Although the novel provides readers with a detailed view of our nation’s past indignities, the book’s themes of racism, discrimination and anti-immigration, disconcertingly resemble the divisiveness of the United States today.”
"Reddi’s engrossing first novel (after the collection Karma) explores the immigrant experience of Indian-Americans in early 20th-century California.... Reddi vividly evokes the landscape and the characters’ place in it, making the conclusion all the more wrenching. Reddi’s Steinbeck-ian tale adds a valuable contribution to the stories of immigrants in California."
— Publishers Weekly
“A debut novel recounts the struggles and triumphs of immigrants in California's Imperial Valley a century ago…. The sweeping narrative is deeply researched and offers a fascinating look at a historic era from a fresh perspective…. The lives of two Indian immigrants are scarred by forces still alive a century later.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Reddi’s richly imagined, character-driven novel sheds light on a little-known history of Indians in the U.S. and surprisingly echoes current events. A wonderful historical saga for fans of Jane Smiley’s Some Luck.”