The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Published by Bloomsbury in 2014
My copy: Second-hand copy
Of all the family gatherings in her childhood, one stands out in Amina’s memory. It is 1979, in Salem India, when a visit to her grandmother’s house escalates into an explosive encounter, pitching brother against brother, mother against son.
In its aftermath, Amina’s father Thomas rushes his family back to their new home in America. Now, twenty years later, Amina receives a phone call from her mother. Thomas has been acting strangely and Kamala needs her daughter back. Amina returns to the New Mexico of her childhood, where her mother has always filled silences with food, only to discover that getting to the truth is not as easy as going home.
I picked this book up on a total whim when I spotted it in a charity shop – in fact it was to make up the numbers in a 3 for 2 deal. I had never seen or heard of the book before and by a massive stroke of luck it turned out to be a brilliant buy!
Told in the third person throughout, we follow Amina as she travels home to see her father who is behaving oddly. We also go back in time to find out a bit more about her family. The first flashback section was one of my favourites, as 11-year-old Amina, older brother Akhil and her parents Kamala and Thomas go to India to visit Thomas’s mother, brother, his wife and son Itty. Thomas’s mother Ammachy is an absolute horror, insulting everyone and being generally unpleasant and manipulative. But Thomas’s brother Sunil is by far the most interesting character we meet, and is the sleepwalker referred to in the book’s title. He is clearly bitter and disappointed at being left behind to live with his horrible mother while Thomas has started a new life in the US. There is so much tension within the family and this section was sad, funny and revealing. I was actually disappointed that the whole book didn’t revolve around the characters we met in this section!
Instead we move on and find out what happened to destroy Thomas’s family, and the impact this has on the whole family in the years to come.
I really loved everything about this book. The characters are vibrant and three-dimensional, and we get to know them warts-and-all. The focus of the whole novel is on the family and how they interact with each other, and how one’s actions affect another for years to come. But even the novel’s minor characters are brilliantly brought to life and have their own unique characteristics.
I usually struggle with overly long books, and this comes in at 500 pages, and I was expecting the book to start dragging or become boring, but this was not the case here at all and I never wanted the book to end! The characters made me laugh, cry, get frustrated and then laugh all over again. Although Amina is the character we follow through the entire novel, by the end the book is really about Thomas, and it leaves you thinking and having to read between the lines a bit to really understand his feelings and motivation.
The only bad thing I have to say about this novel? That it took Jacob ten years to write which doesn’t leave me hopeful for a follow-up any time soon! But other than this, I absolutely adored this bittersweet novel and I would love to read more about this family, especially Ammachy!