cover image Passage West

Passage West

Rishi Reddi. Ecco, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-089879-3

Reddi’s engrossing first novel (after the collection Karma) explores the immigrant experience of Indian-Americans in early 20th-century California. In 1914, 21-year-old Ram Singh arrives in California’s Imperial Valley to help farmer and fellow Indian Karak Singh Gill work the land. While Ram dutifully sends money home and reports all the ups and down of his efforts to his wife, Padma, and his family back in India, Karak sets out to court a young Mexican woman, Rosa Maria. Five years later, Padma and her young son are denied entry to the U.S., and Ram drifts into a relationship with Rosa’s cousin, Adela. While Karak’s cousin Amarjeet joins the Army to help fight in WWI, hoping to prove that his people are loyal to the U.S., Karak remains hemmed in by racist policies and practices: a new law prevents foreigners from owning land, a fruit company exploits immigrant workers, and xenophobia rises among the white population of the Imperial Valley. In response, Karak lashes out with an act of violence that tests his relationship with Ram. 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. (Apr.)