Gold diggers by Sanjena Sathian

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Neil is captivated by Anita, his childhood friend, who seems to have become so self-contained, aloof in a way, and unreachable. The relationship reminded me of Pip and Estella in Dicken’s Great Expectations, but Anita is not quite so unattainable and cold. She has a secret, and when Neil discovers it, he wants it too. Gold. Drinking a special lemonade concoction that includes melted gold, treasured gold embodying the former owner’s wishes and dreams, brings to the drinker the strength and drive to achieve the best; an ambition and determination that Neil is sadly lacking in, according to his aspiring Indian American family.

Gold is a fascinating element. History is full of stories of gold fever, mass migrations to seek out the treasure that might change fortunes. A secondary narrative thread in Gold diggers is Neil’s obsession, as an historian, to research early Indian migration to America, and the story of the Hindu gold digger that continually seems to elude him. The story of the Bombayan becomes a symbol of the unrecognised identity, the sense of belonging he seeks. Neil is not a migrant, he was born in America, and perhaps there are hidden roots to his identity that go back further than his migrant family’s story.

But the main concern is that for Neil, gold becomes a drug, an addiction that leads him to cruelly hurt a gullible young woman. His actions become a shame that he carries with him always. This sets the groundwork for Sathian’s novel, a story that is mysterious and intriguing, but also incredibly comic in some of the situations that are described. At times Neil seems one of those figures like Nick in The Great Gatsby, the observer, the drifter, the person on the outside of the action, never able to be the hero. But he becomes enmeshed in a plot that goes crazily in unexpected directions and he has to finally take action.

Gold diggers is an original adventure, combining history, fantasy and issues of identity and belonging. It is complex, entertaining and rewarding on an intellectual level as well.

Themes: Gold, Gold fever, Ambition, Identity, Migrant experience.

Helen Eddy