Home Books Gold Diggers: by Sanjena Sathian

Gold Diggers: by Sanjena Sathian

Beneath the intrigue of magic, drugs and jewelry heists, Sanjena Sathian delivers a pointed interrogation of immigrant aspiration and struggle towards and in spite of the American Dream. Gold Diggers upends the “model minority” myth and examines how hustle culture particularly impacts immigrants and their offspring.

During the mid-2000s, Neil Narayan waffles about his average life among suburban Atlanta’s Indian population. Anita Dayal, his crush, suddenly competes for top marks and padding applications to Ivy League universities with extracurriculars. Desperate to keep pace, he stumbles upon the secret to her success. Brewed by Anita and her mother, Anjali, their concoction of lemonade and liquified gold imbued with its previous owners’ ambitions fuels Neil and Anita with focus and energy through high school. But a rising star they’ve stolen from commits suicide, haunting the trio of alchemists over a decade. They find each other again in California floundering more than before. Anita plots one last job with Neil to help her ailing mother, but Anjali’s revelation of her illness’ cause and confession to why she started boiling gold at all instead frees the now young adults from the precious metal’s temptation and the burden her generation hefted upon their shoulders.

At the heart of its pages, Gold Diggers is about finding one’s place in a world that demands you to play a part that might not even fit, as exemplified in the immigrant parents’ insistence on academic, career and cultural excellence butting against their second generation children’s Westernizing to fit in. With doses of humor and criticism, Sathian highlights the characters’ confusion in adapting to American culture and lifestyle either at the expense of their Indian roots or in an attempt to balance both, though it bites at times. Indian matriarchs indulge in gossip about each other and their families. Any activity diverging from the elders’ approval is disregarded as “American” or “white” behavior. Yet, their children, to a degree, distance themselves from their heritage, vastly preferring dating outside of their race and teasing their schoolmate Shruti for being too “fresh off the boat” socially without realizing her pain until it’s too late.

Sathian weaves into her novel a parable of how external and internal pressure can foster unbridled, jealous and exhausting ambition that can undo an individual and all they’ve accomplished. Neil, Anita and Anjali’s addiction to liquid gold coaxes them into deceiving their peers and each other, hurting their relationships and themselves mentally, emotionally and physically in pursuit of their desires. Anita resents her mother for working her too hard to make use of the gold they’re pilfering. Anjali develops mercury poisoning from ingesting melted metal and chemical brews she reserved for herself. Neil manipulates Shruti’s feelings for him to take a fated, last gold chain from her, and Anita blames him for sapping her will to live for lemonade he made for himself. When they’re finally forced to confront the damage they’ve done, they begin to accept responsibility for their actions and the people they are regardless of any prescribed template.

While drinking gold as a plot device is extraordinary, there aren’t many other mystical manifestations in the book. Shruti’s spirit following Neil around can be explained away as intrusive thoughts conjured from immense guilt. A similar approach of seeing what one wants to see could apply to otherworldly manifestations elsewhere. Even Neil disregards serious study and practice of alchemy as nonsense. The fantastical elements can either come off misplaced or as a welcome escapist flair. Who hasn’t wished whatever they wanted would “magically” happen, after all? Regardless of such enchanted intervention, Sathian’s Gold Diggers presents a grounded coming-of-age story and critique of constricting, often stereotypical expectations readers will be able relate to.

Presents a grounded coming-of-age story and critique of constricting, often stereotypical expectations readers will be able relate to.
60 %
Golden Self-Discovery

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