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An Indian-American magical realist coming of age story, spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, in razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, fun An Indian-American magical realist coming of age story, spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, in razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn't share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents' expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal. But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry's original owner. Anjali's own mother in Bombay didn't waste the precious potion on her daughter, favoring her sons instead. Anita, on the other hand, just needs a little boost to get into Harvard. But when Neil--who needs a whole lot more--joins in the plot, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. Ten years later, Neil is an oft-stoned Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. His high school cohort has migrated to Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft--only now, the stakes are higher. Anita's mother is in trouble, and only gold can save her. Anita and Neil must pull off one last heist. Gold Diggers is a fine-grained, profoundly intelligent, and bitingly funny investigation in to questions of identity and coming of age--that tears down American shibboleths.


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An Indian-American magical realist coming of age story, spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, in razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, fun An Indian-American magical realist coming of age story, spanning two continents, two coasts, and four epochs, in razor sharp and deeply funny prose, Sathian captures what it is to grow up as a member of a family, of a diaspora, and of the American meritocracy. A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn't share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents' expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal. But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry's original owner. Anjali's own mother in Bombay didn't waste the precious potion on her daughter, favoring her sons instead. Anita, on the other hand, just needs a little boost to get into Harvard. But when Neil--who needs a whole lot more--joins in the plot, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. Ten years later, Neil is an oft-stoned Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. His high school cohort has migrated to Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft--only now, the stakes are higher. Anita's mother is in trouble, and only gold can save her. Anita and Neil must pull off one last heist. Gold Diggers is a fine-grained, profoundly intelligent, and bitingly funny investigation in to questions of identity and coming of age--that tears down American shibboleths.

30 review for Gold Diggers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    Thanks to the title, you never really have to wonder if this book is going to be so on the nose with its themes. It may be a bit out of fashion in literary fiction these days to be so straightforward but it didn't bother me one bit. Gold is so steeped in American and Indian cultures, so imbued with its own myths, that there is an awful lot to draw from and Sathian doesn't let any bit of it go to waste: the Gold Rush (particularly, but not only, in California), alchemy, beauty, adornment, giftgiv Thanks to the title, you never really have to wonder if this book is going to be so on the nose with its themes. It may be a bit out of fashion in literary fiction these days to be so straightforward but it didn't bother me one bit. Gold is so steeped in American and Indian cultures, so imbued with its own myths, that there is an awful lot to draw from and Sathian doesn't let any bit of it go to waste: the Gold Rush (particularly, but not only, in California), alchemy, beauty, adornment, giftgiving, love, it is all here. All the shiny pieces of it add extra layers to the second-generation immigrant story, the clash between parental ambition and youthful rebellion, the tension between assimilation and cultural preservation. And, to top it off, we have a coming-of-age story of guilt and loneliness. There is a sheen of surrealism atop it all, and it's expertly done. The surreal elements of the book are there to amplify the emotions and themes, even while they give the plot a device to work around. They feel as timeless as any piece of folklore, and they really mesh with the weight of the novel. It is, simultaneously, steeped in the past while also being hyper-specific to a few modern times and places. (The first section takes place in 2006 in suburban Atlanta, the second in 2016 in the Bay Area.) There is a lovely melding of the big themes and old stories with the very specific story of Neil that works quite well. The only part of this meshing I did not find totally successful was the prose itself. To me, the parts that were closest to Neil's own point of view were the best, the sharpest, the saddest and the funniest. The prose that was bigger, broader, more "literary" never quite hit that same spot of satisfaction for me, though I know for many people that kind of writing is required for a book to be taken seriously. (I find it silly, but ultimately it's not my call.) I also have to add that there is a heist in this book. Because I know how much many of you love heists. It's a very assured debut, I was not surprised to see the author's extensive literary pedigree, and I am glad I picked it up. Very excited to see what Sathian does next.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    An Immigrant Story with a dash of magical realism and tons of humor- and so well written and superbly researched. Immigrant stories- including those of East Indian Immigrants- are plentiful. This book gets 5 stars for being so different, so inventive and just plain fun to read. Loved it!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    ***Edit 4/5/21: I've been reflecting on this book over the last few weeks and feel like my review needs some amending. I'd consider this a 3.5 star read, maybe even 3.75 stars. It has stuck with me, and it touches on a lot of elements of the second generation American experience (particular for Indians) that I think are important and interesting, particularly after taking some time to discuss the book with my first generation Indian immigrant friend. The more time has passed and the more I've ru ***Edit 4/5/21: I've been reflecting on this book over the last few weeks and feel like my review needs some amending. I'd consider this a 3.5 star read, maybe even 3.75 stars. It has stuck with me, and it touches on a lot of elements of the second generation American experience (particular for Indians) that I think are important and interesting, particularly after taking some time to discuss the book with my first generation Indian immigrant friend. The more time has passed and the more I've ruminated on the story, the more I enjoyed it. I would be interested in seeing the TV adaptation that is in the works, as Mindy Kaling purchased the television rights. I also had a comment on my basement issue - someone pointed out to me that the suburbs of Atlanta have many houses with basements. Thank you for clarifying that and correcting me! This story highlights the difficulty of being a second generation American, specifically the need to be very successful in order to make your parents sacrifice in moving to a new country a worthwhile venture. Neeraj "Neil" Narayan is struggling to do just that in high school and later as an adult. In feeling the pressure to succeed when he constantly feels less than and unable, Neil stumbles into a way to harvest the ambition of others to buoy his own success through his next door neighbor and crush, Anita, as well as her mother, Anjali. But after a tragic event Neil realizes the cost of this borrowed ambition is high, something that will plague him for years to come. I appreciated this story of the immigrant struggle to achieve the often unachievable and unrealistic American Dream - it's a sad commentary on how Americans define success - and enjoyed being transplanted into an Indian-American family. As an adult, Neil is using various drugs to attempt to make something of himself, an element I wasn't quite sure I found believable for a variety of reasons (an example: how is a grad student on a grant, without a job, able to regularly afford cocaine and other drugs?) and I can't say I felt particularly attached to any of the characters. One small detail bothered me for its lack of believability: early in the book, numerous scenes (some insignificant, some more important) happen in basements. However, this book takes place in Georgia, and based on my own knowledge of the South (friends and family who live in Georgia and North Carolina) and a little internet research, the majority of homes in the South do not have basements - they either have crawl spaces or are built on slabs. I thought at first maybe this was the author writing about an area she was not familiar with, but it turns out the author grew up in Georgia. I imagine any Southerners reading this book would find the fact that various scenes take place in a basement as unbelievable as I did, if not more so (my friend is Georgia actually thought this was laughable). Ultimately, this is a decent story with some thought provoking moments from a debut author that shows promise, but it was just an OK read for me. Many thanks to Netgalley for providing me with an e-galley.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maria Kuznetsova

    This sharp, funny, and devastating novel has it all - ghosts, magic, a send-up of startup culture and the Atlanta suburbs, and a valuable insight into the intense pressure felt by children of immigrants and the risks we are willing to take for success, family, and love. Neil is an imperfect, vulnerable, and thoroughly charming protagonist. A rare debut by a wildly talented author.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shivani

    *3.5 stars TW: suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, racism, classism, sexual assault Where do I begin with this book? If you didn't know, whenever I read a book that has many ups and downs I usually settle on a solid 3 star rating. I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but I feel like even if I did, it wouldn't have come close to what this book embodied. Let's start with what I enjoyed. I found the atmosphere of this book to really resonate with me because I too am a 2nd gene *3.5 stars TW: suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, racism, classism, sexual assault Where do I begin with this book? If you didn't know, whenever I read a book that has many ups and downs I usually settle on a solid 3 star rating. I had no idea what to expect going into this book, but I feel like even if I did, it wouldn't have come close to what this book embodied. Let's start with what I enjoyed. I found the atmosphere of this book to really resonate with me because I too am a 2nd generation Indian immigrant. My parents moved to the US from India in their late 20s and I grew up between worlds of what did it mean to be both Indian and American (that was a constant thread throughout the novel). I appreciated the highlighting of these characters who went through very similar experiences as me when it came to family get togethers or the overall competitive nature of Indian families (whether that's in academics, careers, who's house is nicer, etc.). The actual concept of drinking gold and acquiring a person's ambition was incredibly new and fascinating to me. I had never dived into the properties or the reason why Indians valued gold so much before, but what took this story to another level was the research the author put into digging up the actual history of the first gold miners in the US, more specifically the first Indian gold miner. I truly wished there was more detail about him and his life because I was always intrigued when he was brought up in the novel. My own personal analysis of what this gold was was this notion of fitting in to this stereotype Indian box that American people think we are while also finally reaching this unbelievable notion of being the best of the best. In that strive for perfection a person really begins to lose themselves, and all the aspects of life that make them them. The commentary of this book on Indian culture was very meticulous and it's something that you have to pay close attention to to I think really appreciate the story for what it was. Now, with all that being said, there are of course parts of this book I didn't really understand. I will say that maybe if I wasn't reading it at this time where I have so much going on in my mind I might have sat and decoded the book a bit more, added more annotations, etc., but from what I did read, this book was also incredibly chaotic. The voice of Neil, truly, and I mean truly got on my nerves lol. This is probably because I don't usually read from male POV's often, but this man was just straight up a disaster (although, not going to lie I know plenty of Brown guys like him haha). A part of me would have rather seen this book through the eyes of the generation of the three Dayal women. I say this in special regards to the formatting of the book. I felt like some chapters absolutely nothing happened, but then a section would come up with some really engaging background of a character or a story that would suck me in. I just was being pulled mentally in many different directions. All in all, I recommend everyone pick this book up especially if you're looking for critical themes about the Indian diaspora in the United States or if you really enjoy history, I feel like you'll enjoy this one. (Excuse my essay of a review).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Sanjena Sathian’s “Gold Diggers” is a work of 24-karat genius. This remarkable debut novel — already chosen by Mindy Kaling for an upcoming TV series — melts down striving immigrant tales, Old West mythology and even madcap thrillers to produce an invaluable new alloy of American literature. Charting the route that generations of Indian immigrants have taken to these shores, Sathian locates the precarious nexus of pride and anxiety where so many newcomers reside. She follows the children who stra Sanjena Sathian’s “Gold Diggers” is a work of 24-karat genius. This remarkable debut novel — already chosen by Mindy Kaling for an upcoming TV series — melts down striving immigrant tales, Old West mythology and even madcap thrillers to produce an invaluable new alloy of American literature. Charting the route that generations of Indian immigrants have taken to these shores, Sathian locates the precarious nexus of pride and anxiety where so many newcomers reside. She follows the children who straddle two cultures, forced again and again to answer the question, “What does it mean to be both Indian and American?” And in the process, she plumbs the universal challenge of satisfying the hunger for more — more money, more prestige, more time — an obsession that would make any of us strangers to ourselves. The narrator of “Gold Diggers” is an endearing young man named Neil Narayan, an Indian American living in Atlanta. “When I was younger,” Neil says, “I consisted of little but my parents’ ambitions for who I was to become.” Despite the usual high school temptations, he dutifully heeds his “mother’s warnings that engaging in nonsense could abort all you were supposed to become, could in fact abort the very American dream we were. . . . . To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...

  7. 4 out of 5

    David V

    This book starts off very strong, with biting insight (and satire) regarding the 1st- and 2nd-generation Indian-American experience. The author mixes in magical realism to create an interesting plot regarding ambition and achievement. I found myself recognizing conversations I have had with numerous Indian co-workers over the past 10-15 years, many of whom are wrestling with what it means to have one foot in America and another back in India. The book artfully and effectively captures the demand This book starts off very strong, with biting insight (and satire) regarding the 1st- and 2nd-generation Indian-American experience. The author mixes in magical realism to create an interesting plot regarding ambition and achievement. I found myself recognizing conversations I have had with numerous Indian co-workers over the past 10-15 years, many of whom are wrestling with what it means to have one foot in America and another back in India. The book artfully and effectively captures the demands and desires of the parents who have relocated for opportunity and the children who are struggling with identity and their futures. There is a definitive divider in the book where Part 1 ends and Part 2 begins ~10 years later. The book loses all momentum at that point and Neil, the protagonist and narrator, takes us on a meandering journey to an expository less-than-satisfying conclusion. The focus shifts from the characters and into an amalgam of history lesson (Gold Rush), a heist which adds little to the story other than 20-30 pages of pseudo-action, and navel-gazing by Neil. This was a 4-5 star book for the first half and a 2-star book for the second half - thus the 3-star rating.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Manchester Public Library, CT

    ***Edit 4/5/21: I've been reflecting on this book over the last few weeks and feel like my review needs some amending. I'd consider this a 3.5 star read, maybe even 3.75 stars. It has stuck with me, and it touches on a lot of elements of the second generation American experience (particular for Indians) that I think are important and interesting, particularly after taking some time to discuss the book with my first generation Indian immigrant friend. The more time has passed and the more I've ru ***Edit 4/5/21: I've been reflecting on this book over the last few weeks and feel like my review needs some amending. I'd consider this a 3.5 star read, maybe even 3.75 stars. It has stuck with me, and it touches on a lot of elements of the second generation American experience (particular for Indians) that I think are important and interesting, particularly after taking some time to discuss the book with my first generation Indian immigrant friend. The more time has passed and the more I've ruminated on the story, the more I enjoyed it. I would be interested in seeing the TV adaptation that is in the works, as Mindy Kaling purchased the television rights. I also had a comment on my basement issue - someone pointed out to me that the suburbs of Atlanta have many houses with basements. Thank you for clarifying that and correcting me! This story highlights the difficulty of being a second generation immigrant, specifically the need to be very successful in order to make your parents sacrifice in moving to a new country a worthwhile venture. Neeraj "Neil" Narayan is struggling to do just that in high school and later as an adult. In feeling the pressure to succeed when he constantly feels less than and unable, Neil stumbles into a way to harvest the ambition of others to buoy his own success through his next door neighbor and crush, Anita, as well as her mother, Anjali. But after a tragic event Neil realizes the cost of this borrowed ambition is high, something that will plague him for years to come. I appreciated this story of the immigrant struggle to achieve the often unachievable and unrealistic American Dream - it's a sad commentary on how Americans define success - and enjoyed being transplanted into an Indian-American family. As an adult, Neil is using various drugs to attempt to make something of himself, an element I wasn't quite sure I found believable for a variety of reasons (an example: how is a grad student on a grant, without a job, able to regularly afford cocaine and other drugs?) and I can't say I felt particularly attached to any of the characters. One small detail bothered me for its lack of believability: early in the book, numerous scenes (some insignificant, some more important) happen in basements. However, this book takes place in Georgia, and based on my own knowledge of the South (friends and family who live in Georgia and North Carolina) and a little internet research, the majority of homes in the South do not have basements - they either have crawl spaces or are built on slabs. I thought at first maybe this was the author writing about an area she was not familiar with, but it turns out the author grew up in Georgia. I imagine any Southerners reading this book would find the fact that various scenes take place in a basement as unbelievable as I did, if not more so (my friend is Georgia actually thought this was laughable). Ultimately, this is a decent story with some thought provoking moments from a debut author that shows promise, but it was just an OK read for me. - Valerie, Circulation Librarian

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pooja

    One of the best! Gold Diggers taps into some profound questions about American-ness, ambition, manifest destiny and meritocracy. But it's also hilarious, one of those novels that may be a bit impolite to read in public because you'll be laughing, loudly and often, as you do. It is also a page turner par excellence. I found myself rushing to find out what happens next but also not wanting it to end. The magical realism here is deft and inventive and operates even on the level of history, and when One of the best! Gold Diggers taps into some profound questions about American-ness, ambition, manifest destiny and meritocracy. But it's also hilarious, one of those novels that may be a bit impolite to read in public because you'll be laughing, loudly and often, as you do. It is also a page turner par excellence. I found myself rushing to find out what happens next but also not wanting it to end. The magical realism here is deft and inventive and operates even on the level of history, and when history becomes myth. And though it is IMO the funniest desi novel since Midnight's Children, it's also deeply melancholy, which is a magic trick unto itself. As an Indian-American, I am grateful for the recent proliferation of fiction related to the diaspora. We've moved beyond chopped onions and green chilis, cardigans worn over saris, and other signifiers of the either-or dilemmas the first generation faced. I am thrilled to see a novel like this, which firmly embeds the "immigrant experience" in the American story.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Theodore McCombs

    Early in "Gold Diggers," high-schooler Neil trudges through his English teacher's assigned reading of "stories depicting the somber reality of the immigrant experience." It's the gentlest irreverence, but "Gold Diggers" makes good on it: this coming-of-age magical heist novel is anything but somber, or real. On the one hand, the novel is boldly, gloriously about its slacker-and-striver odd couple of second-generation desis stealing gold from other Indians to alchemize a literal recipe for succes Early in "Gold Diggers," high-schooler Neil trudges through his English teacher's assigned reading of "stories depicting the somber reality of the immigrant experience." It's the gentlest irreverence, but "Gold Diggers" makes good on it: this coming-of-age magical heist novel is anything but somber, or real. On the one hand, the novel is boldly, gloriously about its slacker-and-striver odd couple of second-generation desis stealing gold from other Indians to alchemize a literal recipe for success. The absurdism and deeply felt critique of this slice of Indian America is fun to read and hard-earned. The prose is natural but full of canny, beautifully rendered observation, and the plot is well crafted. On the other hand, the novel's even bolder claim is that "the immigrant experience" is not in the slightest bit separable from "the American experience"; the story of striving, thieving, irresolute, and sentimentally ruthless Neeraj, Anita, and Anjali is also the story of the California Gold Rush and Bay Area tech cults. Indian myths are American myths, and vice versa. "Gold Diggers" is a thoughtful, weird, wonderful American novel and I can't wait for the next.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liza

    Sanjena Sathian's debut novel is a fully original story that harnesses the fever of the California Gold Rush, the intoxication of the American dream, and the pressure of the modern day immigrant parent all in one story. In Atlanta, Georgia we meet Neil / Neeraj, a second-generation teen struggling to live up to his Indian-born parents’ goals. He’s surrounded by Asian-American whiz kids whose academic and extracurricular activities leave him in the dust. He simply seems to be missing the drive. H Sanjena Sathian's debut novel is a fully original story that harnesses the fever of the California Gold Rush, the intoxication of the American dream, and the pressure of the modern day immigrant parent all in one story. In Atlanta, Georgia we meet Neil / Neeraj, a second-generation teen struggling to live up to his Indian-born parents’ goals. He’s surrounded by Asian-American whiz kids whose academic and extracurricular activities leave him in the dust. He simply seems to be missing the drive. He’s also besotted with his neighbor, Anita, an exceptionally successful student as well as a leading contestant for Miss Teen India Georgia. It’s like she’s in overdrive, imbued with some extra special quality that Neil can only fantasize of obtaining. But then Neil discovers Anita’s secret to success. I won’t give it all away, but Anita’s power lies in gold and alchemy. In exchange for his silence, Neil obtains access to Anita’s secret weapon and suddenly he’s able to compete with his peers, he’s able to meet his parents’ weighty expectations. But this success comes with a price, as well as a level of addiction, and one fateful event shatters everything. Ten years and a number of partially-managed addictions later, the cycle begins again. . . I love discovering new and distinct voices in literature and Sathian’s voice is fully her own. She’s already an award-winning author of short fiction as well as a winner of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans. Her first book is undoubtedly a success. Sathian starts a necessary conversation about the pressures that immigrant parents so often place on their children, centered around a protagonist that breaks the stereotype of the Asian-American overachiever. I loved her use of gold as a central player in the story and as a metaphor for both the intoxication of the American promise and the addiction of its pursuit. Sathian’s play of alchemy, culture, history, and lore in a modern drama is enchantingly delivered. I would absolutely love to hear what second-generation readers think of this story.

  12. 4 out of 5

    RoshReviews

    Gold Diggers is an Indian-American story unlike any I've read before. It's quite a unique debut novel, focused on the desi diaspora in the US. The narrator of the book is Neil Narayan (actual name: Neeraj), a young Indian-American teenager. His parents have high expectations from him and his older sister. Unfortunately, the drive that fuels his competitive sister's ambition is missing in Neil and he finds himself struggling to meet their expectations. His focus is more on his neighbour, Anita Da Gold Diggers is an Indian-American story unlike any I've read before. It's quite a unique debut novel, focused on the desi diaspora in the US. The narrator of the book is Neil Narayan (actual name: Neeraj), a young Indian-American teenager. His parents have high expectations from him and his older sister. Unfortunately, the drive that fuels his competitive sister's ambition is missing in Neil and he finds himself struggling to meet their expectations. His focus is more on his neighbour, Anita Dayal, who has a dark secret of her own. Along with her mother Anjali, she brews a special potion made with gold stolen from other desi achievers to harness their energies. After a certain tragedy causes them to part ways, the story resumes ten years later, where they need to return to their alchemical adventures once again, this time to save Anjali. The book aims to be a bildungsroman-cum-heist-cum-literary fiction-magical realism. It performs wonderfully in the bildungsroman part, decently in the heist and magical realism sections but goes for a toss when it comes the literary fiction bit. I did love the caricatured sarcasm in the book. It takes a not-so-subtle dig at all those Indian Americans who want the best of American opportunities while looking down on American values. They want their children to succeed at engineering or any such prominent field, they want their children to aim at the elite universities, they want their children to avoid alcohol and drugs and premarital sex and get married to their chosen Indian partner after "settling" in the career. All the parents portrayed in the novel except Anjali are stereotypical. Then again, these stereotypes are based very much in reality, though they seem like an exaggeration. I also appreciate how the author didn't present a picture-perfect cultured Indian-in-America story. The younger generation is shown to have American struggles, American thinking, American attitudes, while still having the Indian guilt hammered in them courtesy their parents. Neil feels tremendous pressure from his parents to become "something", to justify their "shift across the oceans". It's a nice insight into the pressure that the younger generation (born in America to desi parents) feels regularly. I wish the rest of the book could have matched up to these two positive points. I didn't like the narrative pov of Neil. He was boring and almost self-obsessed. I wish the narrator had been Anjali or Anita. The story would have had so much more to offer if it were from either of their perspectives. Even a multi-pov narration would have worked well. Neil the narrator simply couldn't handle the burden of telling their story effectively. The flashbacks that offer Anjali's story are way more interesting than the present seen through Neil's eyes. The book starts off very well and until about 40-45%, I was quite hooked onto the story though it was slow-paced at times. After that mark, it just dragged. The plot meanders a lot and ends up becoming a tedious torture. It doesn't recover its momentum till the very end. I was on the verge of giving up on the book many times. The only reason I read it till the end was to know the whats and whys of Anjali's story. That ending did provide some closure, but not satisfaction. The book would have been much better with a strict editing, making the narrative tauter and cutting out all unnecessary chaff. All in all, this was a book that had tremendous potential but failed to achieve the promised heights. It is still a great debut, especially in terms of its innovative storyline. All it needed is a more focused narrative, a better protagonist, and crisper editing. Thank you, NetGalley and Penguin Press, for the Advanced Review Copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. *********************** Join me on the Facebook group, Readers Forever! , for more reviews, book-related discussions and fun. Follow me on Instagram: RoshReviews

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tessa Palfrey

    Sometimes there are books that awe me with their spot-on articulations of things I have experienced in my life but couldn’t put words to. Other times there are books that are so outside of my personal and limited worldview that they awe me because of their ability to crack my mind open a little bit wider. “Gold Diggers” was one of those books for me. Short-ish summary: “Gold Diggers” follows Neil and Anita (and their families) as they encounter typical high school drama heightened by the pressure Sometimes there are books that awe me with their spot-on articulations of things I have experienced in my life but couldn’t put words to. Other times there are books that are so outside of my personal and limited worldview that they awe me because of their ability to crack my mind open a little bit wider. “Gold Diggers” was one of those books for me. Short-ish summary: “Gold Diggers” follows Neil and Anita (and their families) as they encounter typical high school drama heightened by the pressures of being second-generation kids. When Neil (who is not-so-low-key in love with Anita) discovers that Anita’s success is due in part to an alchemical concoction brewed by her mother, he wants in. Eventually, disaster strikes. Fast-forward almost a decade, and we find Neil and Anita in adulthood, still struggling with how to reconcile and balance their wants with those of their parents. Anita has a plan. As Neil is still not-so-low-key in love with Anita, he’s predictably along for the ride. “Gold Diggers” is funny, original, slightly magical, and offers damning and hilarious commentary on how far people will go to make their parents happy and survive the American meritocracy. The themes of gold, alchemy, and history are woven in with a skill that I can’t even believe. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between the kids from Hammond Grove and the character Liberite (from the book “Liberite” by Kaitlyn Greenidge). They’re all trying to figure out how to walk the tightrope of living up to their parents’ expectations of them as humans- but also as representatives of their respective diasporas. “Conceptual orphan” is the brilliant term Sathian uses for this: “We were both conceptual orphans. Perhaps that is the condition of any second generation. In the space between us and the rest of adulthood lay a great expanse of the unknown. We had not grown up imbibing stories that implicitly conveyed answers to the basic questions of being: What did it feel like to fall in love in America, to take oneself for granted, in America? Starved as we were for clues about how to live, we would grip like mad on to anything that lent a possible way of being.” With echoes of Libertie, “‘I wished everyone would give up on me,’ Neil says. ‘Their gazes were too forceful, their hopes for me too enormous.’” Both books spend a lot of time exploring the rebelliousness of wanting to be something else, maybe even (gasp!) average, against their parents’ lofty ambitions. It turns out, however- it’s not just the parents who make the assumption that parents and their offspring have identical wants and ambitions. Neil’s sister, Prachi, is out shopping for her wedding and runs into Anita. She passes this quick judgment: “‘Anyway, if she’s wedding shopping now, she must be doing okay,’ she said. Which was, of course, so like my sister’s particular understanding of happiness.” And of course, there’s Neil’s interaction with a white girl he’s casually sleeping with: “Arabella’s confessions were terribly normal—concerns about the shape of her breasts, were they too eggplanty, etc. When it came my turn, I spoke of academic and familial pressures and Asian emasculation. She’d nodded as I wrapped up the perfunctory revelations and told me that she ‘lived entirely with people who identified as hyphenated in college’ and therefore ‘got it.’” Cringe. Hilarious, but. Cringe. While there were a lot of things I liked about this book, my favorite by far was that each character was allowed to be imperfect, and at times downright awful. But I still rooted for each of them- they were drawn so realistically it was easy to empathize even when I wanted to slap them. I love good depictions of imperfect people, which leads to my favorite line from the book: “‘If you insist on carrying that around,’ he said, ‘find a way to make it make you better.’” (ALSO just read that Mindy Kaling may be producing a series based on the novel. YES.)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mythili

    Content warning: suicide Second Disclaimer: I am perhaps unduly harsh on books about the Indian-American experience. They are more likely to exasperate me. Not because I think that every book needs to perfectly express my experience--I loved Never Have I Ever, and my experience could not have been more disparate--but because they seem to barely skim the surface of the wealth of experience that I know the #ownvoices author must have. So they don't come off as insightful to me, the way that Big Ban Content warning: suicide Second Disclaimer: I am perhaps unduly harsh on books about the Indian-American experience. They are more likely to exasperate me. Not because I think that every book needs to perfectly express my experience--I loved Never Have I Ever, and my experience could not have been more disparate--but because they seem to barely skim the surface of the wealth of experience that I know the #ownvoices author must have. So they don't come off as insightful to me, the way that Big Bang Theory's "nerd jokes" never made any sense to me, a former academic nerd person who actually went to nerd college. YMMV, I assume this could be a three star book for the average reader, South Asian or not, who doesn't demand more of their South Asian rep. The main part of the blurb is three paragraphs. The first is about Neil's character (our protagonist). The second is all about Anita's secret, the liquid gold that drives the promised heist plots. The third is half about Neil, and then half about a second-arc heist. The blurb is lying. This book is actually another entry in my favoritest subgenre! "An emotionally stunted manchild cannot handle life, even in the slightest, and doesn't know what his Purpose is: the second gen Indian-American edition, Atlanta/San Francisco variant." MY GOD, I just wanted Anita and her mother Anjali to DROP THIS DRIP and let him fail entirely on his own merits. Or maybe just drop him off the edge of a plot hole somewhere so that he'd disappear and we could spend some time with literally any other character, I literally cared about every single character (except maybe the 2D stereotype classmates that filled out Anita's new private school) more than I cared about Neil "I have decided to go by a Starbucks name my entire life but sneer at my sister's attempts to answer questions about being bicultural" Narayan. Yes, I will freely admit again that I might judge Indian-American experience books a bit more critically. In this case, I genuinely believe it's because if the unexamined life is not worth living, I'm not entirely sure whether it's worth reading. Does Neil need to, "cheerfully attune [his] inner life with each year," like he notes his sister has done? Well, no. But methinks that you're quick to psychoanalyze your sister, burdened with the weight of being the eldest child of immigrant parents, who has come to terms with her identity and made a life for herself, and quick to dismiss one brief dalliance with therapy years ago as not useful. And, like, what is the point of watching along as Neil snorts and drugs his way through a mediocre grad student existence in mid-2010s-Bay Area? That Indian-American second generation kids-now-adults can be just as disaffected as any other group who have shed the moniker of immigrant years after having landed on the hallowed, stolen shores of America? I dunno. There's so much promise in this book: the idea of gold/alchemy/ambition, "to whom much is given, much is expected, and also you should try and feel as guilty as you can about all your actions," the weird protective-yet-smothering effect of growing up in the South Asian bubble within majority white neighborhoods that are now majority immigrant when you go back to visit...but we're stuck on this protagonist who is afflicted with Great Ennui over everything that he is too lazy to achieve. (view spoiler)[And also, can we definitively say that he's also a psychopathic little shit for stealing Shruti's life force while pretending to be into her? I'm not saying he's like, the only one to blame for her suicide--although he seems to think that, letting him be that important irks me--but he's definitely no better than Minkus and his clandestine Smith & Wesson 9mm when it comes to carrying out dangerous, harmful actions. (hide spoiler)]

  15. 5 out of 5

    Juhi

    Gold Diggers is brilliant - it's refreshing, funny, entertaining, critical all at once. The book follows two second gen Indian-American kids, with the first half set in 2006 suburban Atlanta and the second half in 2016 San Francisco. I've never read a book that so closely follows my own path (there was even a mean background character named Juhi), and it was a little unnerving. The plot diverges from my own life with some magic realism, where the protagonists tap into an ancient alchemy that all Gold Diggers is brilliant - it's refreshing, funny, entertaining, critical all at once. The book follows two second gen Indian-American kids, with the first half set in 2006 suburban Atlanta and the second half in 2016 San Francisco. I've never read a book that so closely follows my own path (there was even a mean background character named Juhi), and it was a little unnerving. The plot diverges from my own life with some magic realism, where the protagonists tap into an ancient alchemy that allows them to steal anyone's ambition and talent by melting down their gold and drinking it. The central theme is ambition - the hopes immigrant parents put on their progeny, the willingness of immigrant kids to cut corners in pursuit of the ideal, the pressure of the collective's singular vision of success (their kids going to an ivy league college), the hidden toll of coming of age in this community, the grandeur and promise of the American Dream. Sometimes it felt like the author was a bit too critical, maybe unkind, about the uncles and aunties who don't know how to dream other dreams for their kids. We see the smothering intensity of this culture in the first half of the book, and then I wonder what it's all for when the characters seem to equilibriate with each other ten years later. We see how people are drawn to alchemy, to power, out of a desperate desire to want more. It made me ask, what is all of this for? Do the means justify the ends if we're able to attain "success"? There's discussion about mental health too, with character arcs including suicide, depression, and addiction. The magical realism just intensified these questions and heightened the stakes. The motif of gold was used to maximal effect. I remember the gold thefts in Atlanta, when Indian American homes were being targeted for burglaries. We follow the course of the American gold rushes, starting in Dahlonega Georgia and going out to San Francisco. We see how gold pops up in Indian communities, as decoration, as celebration, and we weave through Indian (and other) mythologies surrounding the precious element. Gold is a thread the connects present to the past. I love how she interrogated questions of history, avoiding the silly cliches of white collar Indian American identity conversations while pushing to imagine what Indian-American history might have looked like and why it matters so much as we make sense of the present. I didn't like the characters. Neil was too ambivalent for me, and I appreciated how he wrestled with Big Questions, how he seemed aware of how self-absorbed he was, but ultimately he didn't do much to redeem himself. Anita was unpredictable, described as a "wind up doll" that would quickly tire out. I wouldn't be friends with them, but I felt like I definitely know people just like them. At times, it felt like they were selfish but other times just trying to do something right for themselves or for their parents. They were complicated characters but well-developed, and it felt like I understood them. Some of the characters felt one-sided, but they served a plot purpose so c'est la vie. Very sad that the background characters Juhi and Isha turned out to be mean ! The setting hit home for me, literally. I grew up a healthy distance from the Atlanta suburbs but moved in those spaces enough to sense the pressure. I remember the Miss Teen India pageants; I'm surprised classical dance didn't come up or Global Mall, given how prevalent they were in my Indian American coming of age LOL. The book reckons with ambition and power, addiction and desperation, community and filial ties, the hold of history both from our ancestors and our parents through vibrant prose, a close portrait of an immigrant community, and some clever flair.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Emily Johnson

    I liked this debut a lot. I understand why Neil was used as an unlikable protagonist to allow the plot more time to unwind. At many times, I found myself wishing Anita was the protagonist to get more depth. Twice the author diverted into luscious storytelling narration, seemingly aware other POVs were needed to stitch the stories together. Perhaps if the book was split in halves with each Neil and Anita as protagonists, the depth could’ve been more continuous. It did seem too easy for Neil to ha I liked this debut a lot. I understand why Neil was used as an unlikable protagonist to allow the plot more time to unwind. At many times, I found myself wishing Anita was the protagonist to get more depth. Twice the author diverted into luscious storytelling narration, seemingly aware other POVs were needed to stitch the stories together. Perhaps if the book was split in halves with each Neil and Anita as protagonists, the depth could’ve been more continuous. It did seem too easy for Neil to hang his faults upon gold and drug addiction, rather than invest in personal change. I was left with the notion that after Neil come into his own by realizing his self-obsession, he just fully leaned into it, and no one much called him out on lies and inconsistencies. That is the book’s point, that it’s much harder to succeed and be happy without constant assistance (whether magical realist or realist), so I will hardly fault the characters for still leaning into personal and social and professional facades at the end. I really enjoyed the linguistic humor, the local histories of each city and community, the very wide scope of experiences and places that the author managed to capture realistically and engagingly. The research she did for this book was incredible, from gold rushes to wedding rituals. I’m sure I’m biased in knowing many smart South Indian and Desi women in saying that the only reason my review is four stars is because by comparison to Anita and even his sister, Neil was uninspiring even until the end. Another point of the book, I feel, is to inform men on how to reinvent and support themselves personality or professionally without the constant at the expense of the women around them - it’s no mistake that the gold gathered belongs to women, and it seems like a feminist decision for Anjali to decide women’s ambitions should be used to make other women’s fortunes. And while Neil admires and begins to recognize the emotional and professional labor of the women in his life, they remain at some points so one-dimensional that it’s easy to understand why Anita doesn’t trust him. I honestly hoped she’d break up with him, as his self-interest kept overriding personal growth. Even at the end with his letter to Shruti, it was mostly about his perceptions and feelings of what he wanted, of who Shruti could’ve been, of what he was doing and how he felt. And again, there’s no requirement for him to be better or be more likable. There are definitely men like him who don’t think twice about major lies to parents and siblings, who never tell the truth even as they demand emotional support from them for the weight of that secret. The selfishness is realistic and perhaps integral to who he is, just like overlooking his bullshit is integral to the women who love him even if he doesn’t change that much. There are also South Indian men who are much more engaged in their moms and sisters and girlfriends as people, who would also read this book wanting more from Neil. Part of preserving over the toxic “Excellence” expectations all of the characters struggle with, is by Neil just being the best person he can be, without mythologies or stimulants. Not just a soundboard for women’s trauma, but an ally. Mediocre but present. Overall I really enjoyed this book! It’s a cautionary tale about ambition, but also a funny and intimate and vulnerable story not just about immigrant or American Dream stories, but also about family and community experiences. If you can look past wanting to like the protagonist, to focus on the histories and compassion and ambition and regrets of Anita’s family, that’s where this book truly shines. Neil is pyrite. But at least he knows.

  17. 4 out of 5

    bookwormbullet

    Thank you so much to Penguin Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Oh my gosh. This book was such a wild ride. I didn’t quite know what to expect going into this book after reading it, I’m honestly shocked at how this book managed to have such a crazy magical realism arc and include authentic (and sometimes downright hilarious) reminders about what it’s like to a part of the Indian diaspora, all while tackling serious issues like mental health, suicide awareness, do Thank you so much to Penguin Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Oh my gosh. This book was such a wild ride. I didn’t quite know what to expect going into this book after reading it, I’m honestly shocked at how this book managed to have such a crazy magical realism arc and include authentic (and sometimes downright hilarious) reminders about what it’s like to a part of the Indian diaspora, all while tackling serious issues like mental health, suicide awareness, domestic violence, and substance abuse (this is an adult book meant for readers 18+). I had the time of my life reading this book and I’d have to give it 4 stars! Gold Diggers tells the story of Neil Narayan, a second-generation Indian American teenager growing up in the early 2000’s in the Atlanta suburbs. His parents have high expectations about his success in high school, college and beyond, which is only fueled further by his driven older sister’s ambitions. Neil’s neighbor, Anita Dayal, catches his eye, leading him to discover a secret about her family: that Anita and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry's original owner. When Neil joins their side hustle, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. A decade later, Neil is a history grad student studying the California gold rush in Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft for one last heist. After hearing that this book was targeted more towards Indian American millennials, a part of me was hesitant about reading this book because I thought that I wouldn’t be able to relate to Neil’s experiences, being an Indian American in Gen Z. However, I soon realized that many of the struggles and events Neil goes through were quite universal. It was honestly really interesting for me to read about his experiences because Neil and his other Asian American friends grew up in an area of Atlanta where there weren’t many minorities around, which definitely influenced the way he interacts with his friends. I was fortunate enough to have grown up in an area in the U.S. where Asian Americans were the majority at my high school and therefore I did not feel as excluded as Neil did at times. Nevertheless, the representation was amazing and I loved all the relatable and funny tidbits. The mix of Hindi and English was really well done and added a sense of drama and flair to all the crazy moments in the story, which I loved. The discussions of mental health in the context of the South Asian community was also really well done in my opinion. When I was younger, mental health was such a taboo topic in my Indian community, and although more discussions are being opened up, we still have a long way to go and I think this book did a great job of tackling the topic. I think my biggest issue with the book was the ending after Neil and Anita’s last heist. It personally fell a little flat to me, especially after reading such an intense sequence of events. I think an ending that still maintained the same level of thrill and craziness would have better. I also found myself unable to root for Neil and Anita many times throughout the book. Both seemed like bad friends and peers in each half of the story, and because of that I think they were perfect for one another. Nevertheless, I think that Gold Diggers is an amazing debut for Sanjena Sathian perfect for all members of the Indian diaspora!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)

    Neil Narayan does not have the same drive or ambition that his peers have towards academics or even extra-curricular activities. His older sister is headed to Duke and his classmates toward other successful destinies, but Neil just mostly wants to be with his neighbor, Anita Dayal, for whom he has complicated feelings - lust, romance, or is it just curiosity? Anita is extremely successful but also has a secret - she and her mother have been brewing an ancient potion using gold stolen from people Neil Narayan does not have the same drive or ambition that his peers have towards academics or even extra-curricular activities. His older sister is headed to Duke and his classmates toward other successful destinies, but Neil just mostly wants to be with his neighbor, Anita Dayal, for whom he has complicated feelings - lust, romance, or is it just curiosity? Anita is extremely successful but also has a secret - she and her mother have been brewing an ancient potion using gold stolen from people whose success they are hoping to harness. When Neil discovers this secret, he wants in. For a brief time, he seems to suddenly be more successful in all his endeavors, until he goes one step too far and things get tragically wrong. Gold Diggers is quite unlike any book I've read before. I almost didn't want to read it because alchemy reminds me of boring middle school classes but I am glad I picked it. A lot of time is spent talking about the brewing and drinking of this magical potion, and its effects on its drinkers - both in terms of the success that follows and also the addictive tendencies that they display. One can put this into magical realism, fantasy, or historical fiction (if you believe in that stuff) but the good thing is that it doesn't matter - very quickly, I accepted it as a quirky aspect of this story. It is also core to the entire plot and why Neil and Anita do certain things. This is a very rich novel, culturally. Most of the characters are either Indian or Indian American. There is a lot of reference to both groups' customs and practices but what impressed me a lot was how the phrases used in the book changed depending on whether that part of the story was set in India or in the US. The book starts with an insight into Anjali Dayal's upbringing in Bombay (before it was called Mumbai) and then we quickly jump more than 20 years later to Neil's life in a suburb in Atlanta, and his next door neighbor, Anita, who is Anjali's daughter. The last part of the book is set 10 years later, when Neil is working through his dissertation and Anita has her own business. Both were well-told and nicely linked together. I can't say I liked any of the characters though. I didn't hate them, but they were too self-centered to be likable. That was the intention of the author, so full points there. Neil does a good job giving a humorous perspective to others' actions. He also doesn't keep his thoughts in check - so his lascivious thoughts had me cringing often. This is definitely not a book to rush through - I made the mistake of assuming it was, and it went slower than it should have. There's definitely a lot to appreciate in this book - the plot, the culture, the vernacular. There's also a little history in here about the California Gold Rush and the forty-niners (not the Football team). While I had heard a bit about the gold rush, this is the first time I actually read through its history (some from the book, some from Wikipedia). Ultimately, I appreciated how well the author used a historical event (gold rush) and a medieval practice (alchemy) to bring together a mother and daughter's intense ambition (Anjali and Anita) with a neighbor's intrigue (Neil) and connect them to a cultural trend (India's love affair with gold). She does this with a good insight into the customs of the characters. Once I read it, as unlikely as it was that a gold potion can give you new strengths, it felt very believable when reading this book. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bookphile

    This book was so frustrating. Some spoilers to follow in my review, so read at your own risk. When I first started reading this book, I was so into it. I found the use of alchemy so interesting and so mysterious, and I was invested in what the book seemed to be saying about the ways in which boys' and men's ambitions are given precedence over those of girls and women. Then the portion of the book where Neil is in high school ended, and my interest in the book took a nosedive. Oh, I knew early in r This book was so frustrating. Some spoilers to follow in my review, so read at your own risk. When I first started reading this book, I was so into it. I found the use of alchemy so interesting and so mysterious, and I was invested in what the book seemed to be saying about the ways in which boys' and men's ambitions are given precedence over those of girls and women. Then the portion of the book where Neil is in high school ended, and my interest in the book took a nosedive. Oh, I knew early in reading the later parts that I just did not like Neil as a character, but it wasn't until after I'd finished reading the book that I figured out why: he was a trope, a trope that usually prevents me from reading literary fiction because I find obnoxious and egregious. Neil is unambitious. Neil envies everyone who has drive in life because he himself has none. Neil drinks, does drugs, and engages in other forms of questionable behavior in an attempt to forget about the details of his life. In short, Neil is wangsty. Honestly, I hated the book so much for making me suffer through Neil not just because I thought Neil sucked, but because the secondary characters surrounding him are much more interesting than Neil is. Like far too much literary fiction I've read, I found myself resenting the author for forcing me to sit through Neil's existential angst so that I could find out what was going to happen to Lakshmi, Anjali, and Anita. And I kept wondering, why does literary fiction do this? Why does it so often frame its narrative through the lens of some observer (who is almost always a dude) that I care nothing about, but have to suffer if I want to find out what's going to happen to the real characters? Anita's family saga is where the meat of this story is. Yes, Neil's portions do touch on the question of growing up as a first generation American, but Neil never seems to have much to say about it--unlike the female characters. Instead, why couldn't I have read a book from Anita's point of view, one in which I got more information about not only what she was struggling with, but about her mother's and grandmother's struggles as well? That was the part of the book that really pulled me in. That was the part I genuinely cared about. I don't want to watch those emotions from a remove, I want to live them. I think I was particularly frustrated about this because just before reading this book, I'd read His Only Wife, a book that actually allowed me to watch the story unfold from the perspective of one of the truly interesting characters. So, yeah, four and a half stars because the three-generation saga of Anita and her family was fascinating. Minus a star and a half because having to read about Neil spoiled the impact of their story.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aarti

    This is a funny, original book that starts off with a lot of promise, and sustains it almost through to the end. I was riveted for the first half of the book - what could have been just a confused immigrant or a coming of age story is magically transformed into much more, as teenagers, desperate for success, brew a concoction of stolen gold to supercharge their ambition. Neil is your average second child, overshadowed by his high achiever older sister and without any real drive or ambition, at l This is a funny, original book that starts off with a lot of promise, and sustains it almost through to the end. I was riveted for the first half of the book - what could have been just a confused immigrant or a coming of age story is magically transformed into much more, as teenagers, desperate for success, brew a concoction of stolen gold to supercharge their ambition. Neil is your average second child, overshadowed by his high achiever older sister and without any real drive or ambition, at least from the perspective of his first generation immigrant parents. He has always silently lusted after girl-next-door, Anita. Anita, however, is anything but the girl next door. Her eyes set on Harvard, and bound for an expensive private school in Georgia, she is everything Neil is not. Regular ambition though, is not enough in a world saturated with overachieving teenagers. Where some kids might use Adderall, Anita and her mother steal gold from her ambitious classmates. The stolen gold is then smelted into a liquid lemonade, and the drinker is imbued with the “stolen” ambition, to supplement the ambition Anita already has. As Neil breaks into their basement and learns their secret, he goes one step too far, and steals from someone who has too little to give, resulting in tragic consequences. I absolutely loved teenaged Neil and Anita, and even Anjali Auntie, Anita’s mother and her enabler. The magical realism built around the gold is compelling and even makes a tiny bit of sense, given the Indian diaspora’s obsession with gold. The world in Hammond Creek is set up with just the right amount of pathos and comedy, and the tragic climax at the end of the first half of the book is executed beautifully. Where the book fell apart a little bit for me was the second half, where, predictably, the adult versions of Neil and Anita (and the middle aged Anjali Auntie) reconnect, each haunted by their gold pilfering past and the trail of wreckage they left behind. Part two is set in the Bay Area, and maybe the writer intended to call out the ridiculous entitlement of California living, but the numerous tech culture and venture-capital references felt overdone to me. Neither adult Neil nor Anita were particularly likable, definitely not as liable or sympathetic as their childhood selves. What brings them together is their shared lust for each other and incredulously, their shared desire to heal Anjali Auntie. The final gold heist was interesting enough, but the book seemed intent on tying up too many loose ends. I did not buy the whole multigenerational angle in the end, just because the book did not heavily invest in it earlier on. Still, I enjoyed this book, and was so pleased to see a writer of South Asian descent write about something truly original.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bay Gross

    Wonderful novel: Sanjena is clever, observant, and fully original. All the more impressive as a debut work. Can strongly recommend. Despite having the fun of a heist plot and the arc of a coming-of-age novel, Sanjena manages to deftly and effectively work in a number of Big Themes: american identity and the desi immigrant experience, education and parental pressure, ambition and hollow returns, mental health in the millennial generation, and ultimately: the groundings of a good life. # Arc The sto Wonderful novel: Sanjena is clever, observant, and fully original. All the more impressive as a debut work. Can strongly recommend. Despite having the fun of a heist plot and the arc of a coming-of-age novel, Sanjena manages to deftly and effectively work in a number of Big Themes: american identity and the desi immigrant experience, education and parental pressure, ambition and hollow returns, mental health in the millennial generation, and ultimately: the groundings of a good life. # Arc The story starts with a bit of YA genre vibe: the character dynamics (highschool setting) feel predictable with some obvious tropes of unrequited love, popularity, and parental ambitions. The language and style seemed to follow that form. But around a third of the way in, it all really clicks into place with character depth and a fascinating story blow out. I dog-eared my favorite pages and looking back now while the first 100 pages are mostly bare, the next 200 littered. Don’t read a synopsis ahead of time! The plot is quite clever and pulls you along. # Strengths - Capture of place. Sanjena’s painting of mumbai and of SF are funny, sharp, and perceptive. Very immersive and capturing of the essence of those cities in this time. Same can be said for her treatment of ‘talented and gifted' youth culture in the suburban AP circuit. - Dialogue. Particularly the dialogue of family at dinner. Excellent pacing. I love the humanity of the gossip. The dad’s character never really comes together for me but mom/son/sister are strong and fully developed through conversation - Literary style. As Neil reflects on his trauma/guilt, there’s a beautiful poetry to his inner monologue and some truly stand-out lines. ”I would tell her that, as usual, she’d gotten it right, found the best answer to the complex problem we were all locked inside.” - The subplot of the bombayan gold digger in 1940’s california was inventive and fun. Weaves in and out of the core narrative, creates a powerful metaphor, and never hits you too hard over the head. The treatment of that sub-plot is really what took this from good to great for me. - Neil/Anita relationship. Sanena’s descriptions here are funny and keen -- she really captures the gestures of a particular type of modern romance. # Weaknesses - The opening chapters YA vibe - The ending went a click further into magical realism territory than the rest of the book. Worked well for the ethos, but less well for my suspension of disbelief. # Compare to Marriage plot meets herman hesse

  22. 5 out of 5

    trishla ⚡ | YourLocalBookReader

    4 stars tw // suicide, drugs, alcohol, racism, classism, sexual assault, depression rep // Indian MC's "When I was younger, I consisted of little but my parents' ambitions for who I was to become." I have to say I was originally drawn to this book because it was marketed as a "gold heist" and I was on a crime/heist bender SoC. HOWEVER this book is SO SO SO much more. This is really a book about the toxic pressure in the Indian community and what that does to you as you grow older. I loved seeing t 4 stars tw // suicide, drugs, alcohol, racism, classism, sexual assault, depression rep // Indian MC's "When I was younger, I consisted of little but my parents' ambitions for who I was to become." I have to say I was originally drawn to this book because it was marketed as a "gold heist" and I was on a crime/heist bender SoC. HOWEVER this book is SO SO SO much more. This is really a book about the toxic pressure in the Indian community and what that does to you as you grow older. I loved seeing this perspective told from someone who was a OV author. The premise is that these women are making a potion with gold that allows them to gain the ambition from the jewelry's original owner. The MC, Neil is a "unfocused" Indian boy living in Georgia who is constantly in the shadow of his perfect older sister, Prachi. However he's mainly focused on his neighbor Anita who's been drinking a gold potion that allows her to steal the ambition from the other girls in the neighborhood by boiling and drinking their gold jewelry. This leads to Anita beating out Prachi for Miss Teen Georgia, and Neil sneaking his way into getting her to share some of the "lemonade" with him. By stealing from his classmates, all seems to be going well until he takes too much from a girl, causing her to commute suicide. In a society focused solely on "getting into the best schools and eventual jobs", where does mental health even fit in? We see a father character say it was all for dramatics, in a world where people would kill to beat someone to the top. Where does mental health fit in in a society that refuses to talk about it, would rather hide it away then risk the societal shame of having a so-called bad brain. After this the book does about a 10 year skip and we see Neil as a graduate student in history still seeing the ghost of the classmate he killed. Anita has a serious case of burnout, jumping out of a "incredible by all Indian standards job" and "perfect by all Indian means boyfriend". We see her speak at the new teen pageant about how suicide is a "feature of the system, not a bug" and that the entire society is responsible for it. However they are brought back together for one last theft, to try and cure Anita's mom's depression with marriage gold. The final theft goes "almost" as planned, but they learn that Anita's mom Anjali, was not trying to gain ambition but rather gain more time, and that has poisoned her. They instead return the last of the gold to it's discovery place as an offering for some life back, or a new life going forward free of the past. Find me on: instagram

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    This book is beautiful, compelling, and real. I feel like I've met these characters. A winding together of past and present, from the perspective of someone about my age who really wants to find himself in the past and connect himself to it, but has trouble; he really feels the distance between himself his ancestry, things long lost, and any grounding narrative that might arise from it and give him direction. But he's trying, despite often giving the appearance of aimlessness. A really sympathet This book is beautiful, compelling, and real. I feel like I've met these characters. A winding together of past and present, from the perspective of someone about my age who really wants to find himself in the past and connect himself to it, but has trouble; he really feels the distance between himself his ancestry, things long lost, and any grounding narrative that might arise from it and give him direction. But he's trying, despite often giving the appearance of aimlessness. A really sympathetic guy. I devoured the early sections of this book and the stumbled arriving at the demarcation of the second half. The beginning was lovely: I savored the coming-of-age story from an American early 2000s middle school culture that was so like my own time growing up. A really vivid imagining of that era of kid-culture and a suburb of Georgia, and then the continuation of those characters into their mid-late twenties into tech booms and San Francisco. And the culture and heritage of the families is lovingly rendered. Sathian gets at the universality of striving, failing, seeking, and family pressure, from the standpoint of a deeply detailed version promulgated upon kids in Indian American families. The twist from there into magical realism stayed more on the side of real, for me, for the most part; it seemed nearly more like magical thinking by the characters than anything. I loved the early section where Neil meets Pranesh Uncle, and couldn't imagine where the book could go from there; maybe off on a journey together? Instead we get some faintly icky early-20s aimlessness, and then a return to Anita, Anjali, and gold, which would make a good heist movie. In fact, the whole book would make a great movie, I think. Pranesh Uncle's belated return and the narrator's musings on age and cyclical nature are at once a little unsatisfying and therefore more real: "I thought that perhaps all this was good, or at least natural." Also, a gorgeous set of symbolism around gold, striving, lemonade, and hard work. One note of critique: In some moments, I still felt like I could tell this was clearly a book written by a woman, despite being in a male perspective. Some little digs at men, some semi-omniscient description (despite still being ostensibly from his perspective) of traditional clothing and jewelry using words the character wouldn't know, and then self-consciously says he doesn't.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Federico Marchisio

    As an immigrant with double citizenship I am always drawn to stories of ambition, belonging and fitting in. Neil, a young ‘American Born Confused Desi’ is not living up to the expectations of his family, who left India for a brighter and better future and can’t imagine having a son with no ambition nor dreams. All changes when he discovers that his neighbour and teen crush Anita is stealing gold jewellery from from high-achievers to concoct a lemonade that will infuse whoever drinks it with that As an immigrant with double citizenship I am always drawn to stories of ambition, belonging and fitting in. Neil, a young ‘American Born Confused Desi’ is not living up to the expectations of his family, who left India for a brighter and better future and can’t imagine having a son with no ambition nor dreams. All changes when he discovers that his neighbour and teen crush Anita is stealing gold jewellery from from high-achievers to concoct a lemonade that will infuse whoever drinks it with that same drive for success. It’s not the first time that actual gold is used as metaphor for immigrants trying to fulfil the American dream, the brilliant debut novel ‘how much of these hills is gold’, is a recent example about Chinese immigration. However, the way the author balances the magical realism and the unexpected twists make this a truly original book that shines in its own light. Despite the funny start and the colourful cast of characters, this is not a light read. The book unearths the dark side of ambition, especially when its forced from parents on to their children. ‘Every emphasis on achieving a certain future came from the anxiety of simply not knowing, none of us knowing, what life here could be.’ Anita will have a breakdown at Uni and things turn ugly fairly soon for Neil, as his first love experience is prompted by greed rather than genuine feelings. ‘Everyone wants something from someone else’ is a leith motive of the second part of the story, and Neil will realise almost too late that he is doing the same mistake again, not helping Anita in a final big heist of gold motivated by love, but in order to get enough dreams and aspirations from others to settle and finally fit in. ‘What did I want? It was impossible; all I wanted was what had already been lost. I wanted more than to change the past, I wanted to be consumed by it.’ ‘What does it mean to be both Indian and American?’ This is the main question the book asks. The characters are desperately searching for something to feel at home in the world or with someone, but they won’t find it in something out there, ultimately they’ll have to give the gold back in order to forge their own path and become the protagonist of their history. ‘What made some people’s life worth remembering, and what rendered others’ forgettable? Did it have something to do with belonging?’ I loved everything from the themes, to the characters and how drama, funny scenes and heist action is balanced throughout the book. This book is pure gold!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Trisha Ray

    4.5 stars CW: suicide, drugs, alcohol, racism, classism. Thank you to Penguin Press for gifting me a copy of this book. I think a lot of people will be attracted to the premise of this book. An "ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jeweltry's original owner"? Please tell me more. However, what stuck with me after reading this book was Sathian's exposure of toxic Indian American communities. I've seen this theme explored in American Betiya and The Trouble wi 4.5 stars CW: suicide, drugs, alcohol, racism, classism. Thank you to Penguin Press for gifting me a copy of this book. I think a lot of people will be attracted to the premise of this book. An "ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jeweltry's original owner"? Please tell me more. However, what stuck with me after reading this book was Sathian's exposure of toxic Indian American communities. I've seen this theme explored in American Betiya and The Trouble with Hating You as well, but nothing to level of Gold Diggers, which comments on American meritocracy throughout the entire novel. In the book, we follow Neil, who is undervalued by the Indian community for his inadequate grades. Meanwhile, his crush Anita is gunning for Miss Teen India Georgia, a symbol of Indian American success. Anita's ambitions are fueled by the magical lemonade mixed with gold which Neil eventually bargains his way into sharing with her. Neil's grades start improving and all seems to be going well on the fast track to the immigrant dream until their classmate commits suicide. Where does suicide, let alone mental health, fit into a society that would kill to make it to the top? How do we heal when the society brushes off the tragedy, saying the person was "off"? Throughout the rest of the book, we see Neil struggle with admitting his own role in his classmate's suicide. We see Anita confront the Miss Teen India Georgia pagaent and speak of the suicide as "a feature of the system. Not a bug." And in their own ways they slowly break away from systems that kept them complicit in the theft of innocent lives. If I haven't been able to convince you how incredible this book is, I'll leave you with this quote that perfectly captures the American Indian experience in my eyes: "That the white kids were still, on average, considered more attractive, more popular. More essentially at home in themselves. That sometimes America baffled us teenagers as much as it did our parents. That every emphasis on achieving a certain future came from the anxiety of simply not knowing, none of us knowing, what life here could be. There was no room to imagine multiple sorts of futures. We'd put all our brainpower toward conjuring up a single one: Harvard."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Summary A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn't share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents' expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal. But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemica Summary A floundering second-generation teenager growing up in the Bush-era Atlanta suburbs, Neil Narayan is authentic, funny, and smart. He just doesn't share the same drive as everyone around him. His perfect older sister is headed to Duke. His parents' expectations for him are just as high. He tries to want this version of success, but mostly, Neil just wants his neighbor across the cul-de-sac, Anita Dayal. But Anita has a secret: she and her mother Anjali have been brewing an ancient alchemical potion from stolen gold that harnesses the ambition of the jewelry's original owner. Anjali's mother in Bombay didn't waste the precious potion on her daughter, favoring her sons instead. Anita, on the other hand, just needs a little boost to get into Harvard. But when Neil who needs a whole lot more--joins in the plot, events spiral into a tragedy that rips their community apart. Ten years later, Neil is an oft-stoned Berkeley history grad student studying the California gold rush. His high school cohort has migrated to Silicon Valley, where he reunites with Anita and resurrects their old habit of gold theft--only now, the stakes are higher. Anita's mother is in trouble, and only gold can save her. Anita and Neil must pull off one last heist. My Thoughts: My first thought when I read the excerpt for this book was - this story sounds so unique. It is different from the general theme of books I usually read and also know of. Even though the book is written by a South Asian and the main characters are Indian American's it was nice to see the story around the "immigrant experience " in America and not around issues faced by first-generation immigrants. It's hard to believe this is a debut novel. It's no wonder Mindy Kaling has already picked this up for a television series! This has everything: sharp, witty writing, a vulnerable narrator, a dash of magical realism, a depth of culture, an eccentric cast of characters, metaphors, and even a heist. At times the pace is slow despite all the above so that's the only reason I did not give this one 5 stars. I will be looking forward to more books from Sanjena! Thank you to Penguin Press for sending me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book is available now in bookstores!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Gorgeous, observant prose; loveable characters; a heist-plot. It’s got the goods. But at what point did “Gold Diggers” wholly win me over? There’s a moment at the beginning of Part Two in which Neil Narayan—the affable narrator of this smart, antic-ridden, heart-felt novel—has just met up with his old crush (and alchemical accomplice), Anita. They haven’t seen each other in nearly ten years. Anita fills him in on her life—and Neil, sitting on bar stool beside her, feels something that overpowers Gorgeous, observant prose; loveable characters; a heist-plot. It’s got the goods. But at what point did “Gold Diggers” wholly win me over? There’s a moment at the beginning of Part Two in which Neil Narayan—the affable narrator of this smart, antic-ridden, heart-felt novel—has just met up with his old crush (and alchemical accomplice), Anita. They haven’t seen each other in nearly ten years. Anita fills him in on her life—and Neil, sitting on bar stool beside her, feels something that overpowers his “sense of violation” at hearing her talk about her ex: “I had come to understand… that telling a story of who you were before a particular moment is a romantic activity, because the moment of the telling, the moment of you two sitting with each other, is the endpoint to the narrative, and that makes you, the hearer, indispensable to the story.” First, that’s just beautiful. But it resonates deeply, too, with the story Sathian herself is telling. I won’t spoil anything. But a tragedy occurs at a certain point. It changes everything; it becomes clear that this tale of striving and belonging, and the striving to belong—and the striving to strive to belong—has serious stakes. The novel, in this way, is certainly “about” the Indian American experience (or at least the experience of a group of upper-middle class and suburban Desis). But that’s just part of what Sathian is doing. A romantic vein runs through the book, I think, such that it becomes by the end an enactment: an enactment of the desire for a belonging that ought to be unconditional, but isn’t. So this is the context in which that above quote hit me. “Telling a story of who you were before a particular moment is a romantic activity”—or, to offer a clunky paraphrase: the fact that you can talk about who you were with someone presupposes a trust, a bond, a certain degree of love. This, I think, is also what Sathian is doing. Her novel sits in a bar with America. Or at least America’s readers.

  28. 4 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press for the early ebook. This is such a fun novel, infused with a clever touch of magical realism throughout. In a suburb of Atlanta, during the Bush administration, we follow high schooler Neil Narayan as he seems to be stumbling through his life in a tight knit community of second generation Indian families. While others are strategically going after Ivy League colleges, Neil is barely getting by and desperately in love with his next door neighbor, Anita Dayal Thanks to Edelweiss and Penguin Press for the early ebook. This is such a fun novel, infused with a clever touch of magical realism throughout. In a suburb of Atlanta, during the Bush administration, we follow high schooler Neil Narayan as he seems to be stumbling through his life in a tight knit community of second generation Indian families. While others are strategically going after Ivy League colleges, Neil is barely getting by and desperately in love with his next door neighbor, Anita Dayal. They were close when they were younger but now Anita is getting amazing grades and competing in Miss Teen India. Neil stumbles onto one of the reasons why Anita is doing so much better: Her mother, Anjali, has been creating a potion that contains the stolen gold from the families they know and Anita drinks this potion and takes on the best parts of the gold’s owners, such as being better at math, being more confident, being able to study longer, etc. Neil wants in. He and Anita, drinking the potion regularly, start doing amazing things in school, but everything comes to a halt when tragedy comes to their small community and Neil and Anita start to realize the toll that their getting ahead in life is having on the ones being left behind. The second half of the book takes place ten years later when Neil and Anita, who don’t speak anymore, are both living in Silicon Valley, he as a struggling graduate student in history and she as an event planner who has dropped out of working in finance. They get back together to try and help Anita’s mother and to see if they can find a way to live good lives without the gold that once made them so unique. This is such a smart and well written book. It’s a little surprising that it’s a first novel and makes you interested to see what the author comes up with next.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Renata

    Hmm. This is definitely a book that I've been thinking about since I read it. I have an ongoing struggle with "magical realism" (I'm putting that in quotes because this book's own blurb calls it magical realism but I know that there is a school of thought that says only Latinx writing should be considered magical realism), anyway, like I tend to get a little stuck on what's literally supposed to be happening if the fantasy elements are meant to just be symbolic or whatever. Like I have a degree Hmm. This is definitely a book that I've been thinking about since I read it. I have an ongoing struggle with "magical realism" (I'm putting that in quotes because this book's own blurb calls it magical realism but I know that there is a school of thought that says only Latinx writing should be considered magical realism), anyway, like I tend to get a little stuck on what's literally supposed to be happening if the fantasy elements are meant to just be symbolic or whatever. Like I have a degree in English and I'm still just like "yeah but what HAPPENED." Like, and I don't think this is a spoiler because it's again the literal main premise of the book, if these characters are stealing gold and using alchemy to then drink the life force of their peers...like I get it as a commentary about competitiveness and ambition but then what does that mean for sort of the central problem of the novel? (view spoiler)[That is to say, when Shruti kills herself because Neil took too much gold from her, what exactly is this a metaphor for? Is it meant to be rape? Or just too much competition? But Neil wasn't even like really competitive with her, not the way Anita was? Or just...I don't know. (hide spoiler)] The parts I liked the best were Neil's historical research into the Gold Rush and the hidden history of South Asian immigrants. The parts I liked the least were Neil's relationship with Anita...like IDK it had real vibes of like "area man earns girl next door's affections (?) by being nice-ish." ??? I would have been interested to read some parts from Anita's POV. Anyway...an interesting read that kept me engaged but also ??? And like I wish it had leaned fully into the alchemy aspect. Why can't it just be serious adult fiction that has actual alchemy instead of ~magical realism alchemy flavor~???

  30. 5 out of 5

    vee

    Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a digital arc of this book. Gold Diggers was something new, something I've never read before. The story revolves around Neil, our main character who gets caught up in a whirlwind of magic realism with his neighbors, Anita and Anjali Auntie. The story was persistent on one thing. The Desi experience, and I felt like this story captured what it essentially meant to be Desi in America. The pressure of doing well in academics, the stress over college and Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a digital arc of this book. Gold Diggers was something new, something I've never read before. The story revolves around Neil, our main character who gets caught up in a whirlwind of magic realism with his neighbors, Anita and Anjali Auntie. The story was persistent on one thing. The Desi experience, and I felt like this story captured what it essentially meant to be Desi in America. The pressure of doing well in academics, the stress over college and the life that comes after, the truth that comes in with fiction. Though the pacing of the book was quite slow, something I did not enjoy, the story was still compelling. Being Indian myself, there was some things I did not relate to, as known, since every experience is different. The obsession with drinking and drugs at such a young age with Desi teens didn't seem realistic, but the thing that was relatable was ambition. We see as the characters parents, similar to every immigrant's parents, come to this country for a better life for their kids. Though I could not relate to everything Neil and Anita did, I still found their struggles the same as mine. In the end of this book, I think my favorite part was the ending. No spoilers, but the reasoning behind why Anita and Anjali did what they did, was thought provoking. We always hear to do good, and though our characters were not always doing the best, the ending I felt, showed why they did everything they did. It came off to me as going back to ones roots, in some form. Having those characters show up made me feel sad, in a way. Gold Diggers is a good tale, with elements that come to play into real life. This thought compelling and provoking is something that is sure to remind you of the better things in life.

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