Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle. Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina’s rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier.
...beautifully wrought, frequently funny, gently heartbreaking debut novel ... Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow, and she is remarkably adept at tonal shifts. When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things ... Jacob uses all of her senses, too. Scent, that powerful unlocker of memories, is unusually present in ways both amusing — as when a 1982 prep-school assembly smells of 'hair shampooed with Vidal Sassoon' — and wrenching.
At over 500 pages, Jacob’s novel attempts a lot. She explores the emotional life of the voluntary immigrant ... The book is also a meditation on grief and the guilt that so often attends it ... At times, Jacob’s writing is less than polished, and she moves toward an ending that’s perhaps too neat and happy for the story that preceded it. However, the book is always engrossing and often feels so true to life that it’s a surprise that it’s not.
Jacob skillfully weaves together the lush landscapes of Kerala with the arid environs of New Mexico; an old world familial household buckling under expectations and tradition, and a family developing its own traditions in a new world. The book is filled with light moments, as Jacob infuses the story and her characters with wit and humor. She has an ear for dialogue, which is challenging in a book that spans continents and generations ... I consider The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing to be as Indian a narrative as Eugenides’s Middlesex is Greek: they both give a nod to their respective cultures for context and yet they are both essentially stories of modern American life ... My one gripe with the book is that we learn almost nothing about Kamala’s background.