...while Immigrant, Montana can be described as an academic novel, its eccentricities and erotic obsessions take it on unpredictable tangents ... Over the course of the book, Kailash muddles his way through several love affairs with women whom he portrays vividly without having much understanding of either them or himself (a neat trick on Kumar’s part). The tensions he feels between the land he left behind and the country he has adopted are considerable, too ... Immigrant, Montana is intelligent, melancholy, quirky. At a time when feelings run high over which immigrants get to call themselves American, Kailash’s idiosyncratic voice adds a welcome tonic note to the debate.
The new book falls between genres. Its aim is not to tell a story, exactly, but to create a portrait of a mind moving uneasily between a new, chosen culture and the one left behind ... In reclaiming and exaggerating the erotic conceit of Donne’s 'To His Mistress' ('O my America! my new-found-land'), Kailash is effectively insisting that the immigrant be seen in his full humanity, in all his wanting-to-get-laid-ness ... There is comedy in the older Kailash looking back, and down, on the younger Kailash; and there is tragedy, too—in his inability to say things directly, he fails to articulate his desires, or understand someone else’s ... The lyrical flights of Lerner’s 10:04 or the witty dialogues between woman and tossed coin in Heti’s Motherhood have no equivalents in Kumar’s 'in-between novel.' But, in its essayistic passages, Immigrant, Montana does channel the pleasure of the most satisfying nonfiction books, the ones in which the reader sees the old anew.
These authorial intrusions—which also include newspaper clippings, photographs, paintings, and other illustrations—upon the fictional text emphasize his immigrant’s ability to live a dual existence, to be both author and narrator, insider and outsider, actor and observer ... It’s an interesting concept, and well executed, but the novel relies too much on that tired old use of female characters whose only service is to advance the male hero’s journey. It’s yet another high-minded story about one man’s hunt for pussy cloaked in the search for love ... it’s not enough to merely perpetuate a mood of a certain point in time if those outdated attitudes are hurtful to half of humanity. It’s the 21st century, and many readers have moved on. Despite its inventive approach and poignant insights, the novel’s retro viewpoint fatefully mars this brave, fresh take on the immigrant’s story.
In his consistently entertaining new book, Immigrant, Montana, Amitava Kumar, an Indian-born writer and scholar, recalls the youthful romantic adventures of Kailash, an Indian-born writer and scholar ... While the best of his asides to the bench can be quite witty, they sometimes come off as unnecessary digressions in an otherwise easefully flowing narrative ... When he finally completed his master’s thesis, Kailash realized what he really wanted to write about was love. Readers will be neither surprised nor displeased by this epiphany, since Kailash has managed to do so all along, with considerable wit to boot.
...it’s a frustration in this otherwise rich, searching book that, because its perspective stays so close to his, these women seem more thinly imagined than he. They morph and shrink under his projections: 'I had fallen in love with her, and with her prose. Her perfume and her lips too. No, with her prose and her lipstick' ... Each time one of them leaves, it deepens the book’s pervasive sense of contact longed for and lost.
Mr. Kumar makes much of his status as an exile, yet it’s not clear how his experiences differ from those of any other randy grad student ... The crux of the problem is that Mr. Kumar follows in the current vogue for mixing fiction and memoir (this is, he writes, an 'in-between novel'). The suspicion of autobiography turns these wistful evocations into something crass and embarrassing: a middle-aged guy bragging about his college conquests ... the very possibility that an actual person has had the most private and distressing details of her life made public hangs like a toxic cloud over the rest of the book.
...an intelligent and intimate novel which employs the increasingly popular techniques of auto-fiction and melds the bawdry humor of Hanif Kureishi with a W.G. Sebaldian wandering consciousness that cannibalizes—and analyzes—every image, cultural object, and idea it encounters ... For every dip Montana takes into pleasure, it wades deeper into politics, displaying a concern for larger questions of exile ... Ah, and then there are the pleasures of the novel’s form and style, which befit its subject matter. Many lovely and satisfying immigrant novels by authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Sunjeev Sahota have hewn to traditional narrative structure. Kumar’s is a different, not necessarily superior but certainly refreshing, stylistic approach.
In telling the story of an immigrant trying to grapple with American campus life, Amitava Kumar has written a bold and provocative counter-narrative: an insider novel that takes occasional pride in its opacity, winking across the room at lit-crit students, developing world feminists and pre-millennial Indians. Where name-dropping by the elite would be evidence of snobbery, from an immigrant student it captures a ritual of self-definition and self-fashioning ... Kumar writes with disarming honesty of the sexual life of a typical south Asian man ... the book is replete with footnotes, artwork and photographs, lines of Urdu poetry and clippings from news magazines. Polyphonic and digressive, it is more an essay novel than an autofiction. Kumar daringly mirrors historical similarities across continents, and situates personal stories against the backdrop of pop-cultural references ... this novel fearlessly unmasks some great men, making political stalwarts and revolutionaries stumble down from their pedestals.
The plot of Kumar’s droll and exhilarating second novel may feel familiar at first, but this coming-of-age-in-the-city story is bolstered by the author’s captivating prose, which keeps it consistently surprising and hilarious ... Ultimately, his journey is more intellectual than physical, and the book includes a plethora of lively literary and cultural references in footnotes, sidebars, and illustrations. This novel is an inventive delight, perfectly pitched to omnivorous readers.
It’s a loose braid, though, and not always an artful one. Kumar’s novel is modeled on the free-range autofictions of Teju Cole or Ben Lerner, prizing interior contemplation of a host of subjects instead of a strong narrative spine. Kumar, though, never quite settles into a comfortable emotional mode—the book is sometimes academically stiff, sometimes pleading (he often delivers asides to 'Your Honor,' as if his identity were on trial). As an evocation of the confusions of global disconnection, it’s an effective strategy but not always a narratively compelling one. A whip-smart if sometimes-arid exploration of home—or lack thereof.