Friday, March 19, 2010

Color Online Book Discussion: Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger

Welcome to Color Online's second group book read. Today we are pleased to feature, Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger. If you didn't already check out her WWOC feature here.

Adromeda at wrung sponge has a great review so for those who don't know the story, here's a brief introduction:

First sentence: "There is a man wearing a turban ringing our doorbell. I walk slowly up the driveway and stop a safe, short distance from him as he rings again."

That opening hooked me right in. The story is set post 9/11 in New Jersey. A major theme of the book is the backlash in American culture against anyone who looks in any way like an Arab or Middle Eastern person who might be a terrorist. The main character is third generation Indian American, raised with little connection to her family's Indian culture.

Now, here are a few questions to get things started.

What was the initial or biggest appeal of this book for you?

What did you know about Indian culture prior to reading this book?

Do you have any personal, social or work-related relationships with South Asians?

3/20 More questions:

Why do you think Sharan's brother and parents didn't try to reunite with her for many years?

When Uncle Sandeep meets the MacFadden family for the first time, there is tension. Why do you think Molly denies this tension at first?

Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if she had grown up knowing her relatives? Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hadn't occurred?

3/21 Questions

Did you read about or experience incidents like what happened to Uncle Sandeep in your community? What was it like in your community after 9/11?

More later. Refer to the original post for additional questions and please reference the questions with your responses.

13 comments:

Zetta said...

I *think* I read this book after "meeting" Neesha via her guest post at Justine's blog...she's brilliant AND Canadian?!? I had to read Shine, and it didn't disappoint; I had tears in my eyes more than once, and loved that Sam's mother also went through changes as her daughter tried to uncover her cultural and familial roots. I'm pushing for a prequel that would tell Sharan's story! Prior to Shine, I'd only read What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin (another Canadian writer), but Shine was my first contemporary story about Sikh culture.

Tarie said...

I love how Shine, Coconut Moon is about a family being reunited. I'm a very family-oriented person and I really enjoy books with family-oriented themes.

And honestly, I know next to nothing about Indian culture. Shine, Coconut Moon is my gateway to Indian culture!

Unfortunately, I do not have any personal, social, or work-related relationships with South Asians. =(

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

(Haha there's nothing like skipping out on schoolwork to talk about one of my favourite books. 8D)

Biggest appeal for this book was SANDEEP, OMG SO MUCH LOVE. ♥ So crush worthy, I don't care if I get judged for this. I first saw this book while wandering on my library shelves and then my eyes latched onto it because of the very strange title (I thought). The cover put me off a bit, but I decided that the canadian sticker on the spine (I don't know if it's like this everywhere, but um, in Canada, when the author is Canadian usually they put a little sticker with the Canadian flag at the bottom of the spine to let you know...) and the title made it at least worth checking out the 1st chapter... And it didn't disappoint!

What do I know, culture-wise? Hmm, I don't think I know anything of depth worthy... Oh! But I do know that when you are a widow, you're not supposed to wear colourful saris, but I'm not sure if this is only for a certain cast... (This I remember from reading Keeping Corner by Kashmira Sheth.) Also, I know how to wear a sudithar (... not that it's very hard, but I was puzzled with how to put on the scarf when a sudithar set was given to me for the first time, lol. And I'm not sure if I'm spelling this right either... *made of fail*)

As for personal connections, there's quite a bit... For one thing there's a significant Indian population in Malaysia, my birth country. One of my cousins married someone of South Asian descent. I grew up in Toronto East and there's a large Tamil population there, and I have some Sri Lankan friends... And I think that's it? But none of the South Asians I personally got to know were Sikh, they were all Hindu. ^^;;

*runs back to essay-land*

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Wait wait just before I go - I WANT SHARAN'S STORY TOO, ZETTA! 8D

Neesha Meminger said...

Tarie and Ah Yuan, you both are too cute. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! Ah Yuan, I *love* Malaysian food!! You will have to tell me about yummy Malay spots in Toronto that I can haunt when I come up again. The one spot I used to go to ALL the time closed up - used to be on Baldwin St.

Tarie, thank you so much for pointing out that this book is about a family. That is truly at the heart of SHINE, and I'm sad that the race/9-11/identity angle gets so much more play. When I first sat down to write it, what I was really connected to was the interaction between the characters. How much love there was between them, but how everything else kept getting in the way--traditions, customs, culture, beliefs, differences in age and experience, etc.

Zetta, I have Sharan's story. I shopped it around until I was ready to drop :P.

Susan, thank you so much for selecting SHINE for your book discussion!

MissAttitude said...

Ooo I want to hear Sharan's story as well!!

@ah Yuan-LOL I love your crush on Sandeep. He's a great guy and seems like a fantastic uncle.

I really liked how the story was about post 9/11 and family. I enjoyed reading about a family trying to reconnect with each other. It was painstakingly slow process, with lots of speedbumps. It was genuine and I wanted to go love with Sharan and Samar.

I think this story is so important not just because of the family oriented aspect but because of the more obvious 9/11 references. Many people today still believe that "muslim American=terrorist" and they don't bother to distinguish between the various Muslim countries out there and learn about the tenants of the Muslim faith (which do not preach terrorism).

Finally, a more minor line that stuck with me was when Mike tells Samar she (I'm paraphrasing) "looked Hispanic." and essentially that she should just pretend to be Hispanic (am I remembering that right?) I thought it was interesting. How often are South Asians told to just "pass" as another ethnic group to prevent suspicion. Or any other ethnic group for that matter (hello light African Americans passing as white).

My community does not have a strong Asian popluation in general. But there is an Indian boy in my class and he's cool (he's into hip hop so we talk about that a lot). Shine, Coconut moon introduced me to Sikkhs (I knew about them a bit from World History class and studying Indira Gandhi). The biggest appeal of Shine, Coconut Moon was the interesting title and that it dealt with assumptions made about South Asians in post 9/11 society.

Thank you for writing this book Neesha and I can't wait to read your next one!

niranjana said...

I'm South Asian (and Indian to boot, though not Sikh), and I was in NYC on 9/11, so I was really intrigued by Shine's storyline. When I requested Neesha's book for review for Eclectica mag., I was honestly a bit apprehensive if it would meet my (sky-high) expectations. Well, it blew them away! So many things to like--the warmth and intelligence of the writing, and the sweep of the story that takes something very particular and makes it timeless and universal. But most of all, I *loved* that Neesha shows how Sharan's choices are as valid as Samar's. These two women have taken very different routes to essentially the same destination--finding out who they are, and being comfortable with all that such a discovery might entail. I totally second Zetta's words about a prequel. AND, there's no romanticization of "exotic" Indian culture. Neesha, I'll stand you a drink or two just for that :)

Color Online said...

The great things about discussions is the participation. New questions. Don't read and wait. Join in.

Color Online said...

What was the initial or biggest appeal of this book for you?

The initial appeal for me was cultural and the other was the 9/11 piece. I wonder if this generation fully grasps how 9/11 has impacted our world and will continue to impact it for a very long time. There were so many ramifications of 9/11 that to see it addressed in YA is huge. I am disappointed that this work isn't more widely known and supported for that component alone.

On the multicultural side, I think we adults need to take an honest look at just how open-minded and tolerant young people really are. I could link to several articles but I think Shine, Coconut Moon speaks volumes of how prejudice and racist young people can be and we need to ask ourselves why are our children so intolerant? Why is there this racial disconnect when all the clothes ad, kids sitcoms and movies want us to believe young people embrace diversity. Some do. Too many are more atypical which means young people are as cliquish and close-minded as adults.

Melissa said...

I do think this is telling an important story, that too many Americans are racial profiling. I appreciated the introduction to Sikhism; I've had Indian friends in the past (unfortunately, we've lost touch), but I knew very little about that religion.

One of the things that struck me about the book was the importance placed upon knowing one's roots.
This question, in particular: Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if she had grown up knowing her relatives? I think not as much, possibly. She still might have had some backlash against everything -- everyone needs a chance to find themselves -- but knowing one's family, one's heritage goes a long way into anchoring one in times of turmoil. I think, anyway.

Good discussion.

Doret said...

I wanted to read Shine Coconut Moon after reading a post Neesha did right around the time the book was released.

I believe it was at Racialicious Just from that I needed more and I was not disappointed. Shine Coconut Moon is a great book. I loved Sam


If Sam had a relationship with her family she still would've had an identity crisis, just a different one. I believe all kids of color who live in mainly White communities, will question their identity.

Tolerance comes from exposure. As diverse as the U.S., there are not enough different images of people of color.

Remember, Ari did her best to create an All Indian cast for Perkin's The Secret Keeper and she had a hard time doing it.

If people read more books, featuring characters that don't look like them, or watch them in movies it will lead to more understanding.

Tarie said...

* Why do you think Sharan's brother and parents didn't try to reunite with her for many years?

I think that it was pride. All parties believed that they were right and stubbornly waited for the other to apologize. It seems that Uncle Sandeep was the only one humble enough to act on the emotions 9/11 stirred up.

* When Uncle Sandeep meets the MacFadden family for the first time, there is tension. Why do you think Molly denies this tension at first?

I think that Molly was stunned that some members of her family had acted that way. She probably felt a lot of embarrassment and shame, but pride and fear held her back from apologizing to Uncle Sandeep and Sam.

* Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if she had grown up knowing her relatives? Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hadn't occurred?

Yes, Sam would have still had an identity crisis - all teenagers go through some sort of identity crisis. But if she had grown up knowing her relatives and/or 9/11 hadn't happened, her identity crisis would have been much less severe.

* Did you read about or experience incidents like what happened to Uncle Sandeep in your community? What was it like in your community after 9/11?

I have a related experience. I was taking an American guest around Metro Manila when we passed by an area with many Filipino Muslims. My guest got very scared and I asked him why. He said that he didn't feel safe being around so many Muslims because he was American. He thought they would attack him.

I was appalled. I would have bet my right lung that no one was going to even try to lay a hand on him - and no one did. Why would they???

The age of my guest? Thirteen.

=(

BrownGirl said...

*What was the initial appeal to this story?

I found myself wanting to learn more about Sikhs. The overall story, of course, was very appealing, but that one detail really stood out for me. It also, as I mentioned in my review, invoked thoughts of the debate of religion v. spirituality. Religion is a huge catalyst for the events of 9/11 as well as Sharan's diminished relationship with her family.

*What did you know about Indian culture prior to reading this book?

My smattering of knowledge about Indian culture is mostly that of Hindus. I had quite a few Hindu friends and acquaintances in college. For instance, the issue of skin color was one we'd discussed as a similar issue with their culture and that of Black Americans. I also witnessed one friend go through an arranged marriage that she wanted no part of but instead, wanted to marry the boyfriend she had secretly.

*Why do you think Sharan's brother and parents didn't try to reunite with her for many years?

I think it was simply stubbornness on everyone's part. No one wanted to admit they might have been wrong or should have been more flexible. Although, Nanaji and Nanaji don't seem very flexible.


*Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if she had grown up knowing her relatives? Do you think Sam would have had an identity crisis if the terrorist attacks on 9/11 hadn't occurred?

I think this was Samar's identity crisis. And, no, without the events of 9/11, she probably would have gone on being a "coconut" because her uncle probably wouldn't have re-emerged to be a catalyst for her identity crisis.

*Did you read about or experience incidents like what happened to Uncle Sandeep in your community? What was it like in your community after 9/11?

No, there was no public backlash against Muslims or any other ethnic group who might've been profiled as Muslim terrorists. However, I live in the South and such things just typically aren't done in public but are discussed about privately. Needless to say, I was nipping a lot of chitter chatter in the bud when "so and so's" Indian Mart or the gas station run by the Ethiopians became a target of hateful discussion. So, the ignorance was present just not as outward in other areas.

LOL @ Ah Yuan's crush. I feel you. No judgments here. :)

@Ari, the boyfriend made me so mad when he told her he thought she was Mexican and that she could pass.

I'm also on board with the prequel telling Sharan's story. I think it'd be fascinating.