Cover Image: Gold Diggers

Gold Diggers

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I enjoyed this book because of the south asian representation. The writing was witty and the story was inventive.
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Loved every bit of this book. Magical realism never felt better. The author writes with great insight about the diaspora communities in the USA and here is an empathetic storyline that stays with you from start to finish!
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A teenage boy who is a bit obsessed by a teenage girl.  Teenage boy does anything he believes will put him in greater favor with teenage girl.  Unfortunately, his actions have negative adverse outcomes.  Teenage boy blames himself for majority of his life for negative adverse outcome, even though he is just a small portion of that outcome.  Fast forward to adulthood... Now adult teenage boy is still obsessed with his fictional idea of past teenage girl.  They reconnect and fall straight back into delinquent and addictive behaviors.  They eventually learn that these delinquent behaviors never changed any person's life - and end up living happily every after anyways.  Lost, loose stereotypes of addiction and cultural discrimination.  Possible interesting  storyline of the "gold diggers" but not enough was invested to make it an interesting plot.  

Thanks to NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for my honest opinion and review.
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This book was entertaining and I loved the interweaving of history with culture and modern Indian American identity. I liked that the narrator was a guy in the arts, which I haven't seen often in literature! As an Indian American reader myself, I felt this was written more for a white audience. It glossed over or didn't get as deep as I would like in certain topics, but still really interesting and well written. I loved the characters!
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Sanjena Sathian’s “Gold Diggers” is a stunning debut novel that blends immigrant narratives, coming of age  tropes, eastern mythology and contemporary thrillers to produce a compelling social satire. 

The novel starts by putting the spotlight on a community of Indian American teenagers in a high school in Hammond Creek, Georgia. The teen narrator, Neil Narayan  fantasizes about his neighbor Anita Dayal, When Neil catches Anita drinking gold, the novel picks up pace and pivots toward the allegorical.

A tragedy that ensues from the pursuit of the “lemonade” slingshots the novel into its second half, as both Neil and Anita are in their 20s, living in the Bay Area, and struggling with disappointments:

Overall, the book is a fantastic example of modern magical realism, as gold’s symbolism for Indian Americans lends to the “realism” side, and gold itself is the core of its magic. Sathian uses gold to represent the relentless ambition of Indian American families, but she doesn’t shy away from criticizing the high-pressure environment that’s often inherent with Indian American communities. Neil is hounded by the American Dream, his parents never miss an opportunity to remind him of their sacrifices to get him to the United States so he could succeed in this “land of opportunity."
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I’m judging the L.A. Times 2020 and 2021 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

A small pink tongue darted out to taste the thing that still seemed forbidden. Was it tangier? Too sour? She had tried her mother’s drink only once, briefly, surreptitiously. But she suspected her iteration was not yet right. That seemed to happen in migration. The old recipes were never quite the same on this side of the world.
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What a fun, unique book! I did not know exactly what to expect when I read the description for this book, but I was blown away by the poetic language and the twisting plot. This is an exceptionally written debut that speaks volumes about the pressures put on first-generation immigrant children to succeed, particularly in the Indian community. Witty, sad, and exceptional.
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A well written debut novel.Takes us into a world a culture that was entertaining and interesting.There is magic realism  fun moments.An author I will be following.#netgalley #penguinpress.
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Gold Diggers is in part in fact about gold diggers during the American gold rush. But, mostly it is about the Indian American experience. Gold holds an important place in Indian culture, being gifted with best wishes for weddings and births. Each peace holds a special meaning and intention. This story spans several decades and our protagonist is Neil, a young Indian American man who starts the book as a teen living in the suburbs of Atlanta in the years following 9/11. A teen who rubs elbows with other Indian American teens in his family's social circle. He feels like a bit of an underachiever in this crowd. He discovers that one overachieving family is having their daughter drink a beverage that contains melted down gold in the hope that it will bring her skill and luck. The gold they use for this is stolen from other Indian families' treasured collections of gold received at special events.

This was a fun read about coming of age in the Indian diaspora when you don't quite fit the mold and the things one will do in hopes of success and advantage. There is definite wit infused throughout this novel and Neil is a relatable character who while he made some questionable choices, I hoped for him to find his own happiness.

What to listen to while reading...
Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John
Gold by Chet Faker
Electric Feel by MGMT
Crazy by Gnarls Barkley
Run On by Moby
DARE by Gorillaz
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Thank you to both #NetGalley and Penguin Group/The Penguin Press for providing me an advance copy of Sanjena Sathian’s contemporary fiction novel, Gold Diggers, in exchange for an honest review.

#GoldDiggers is a coming-of-age tale with a splash of magical realism. To be honest, I was hoping that the novel held a bit more magic than it did realism. While the novel is well-written and contains enchanting passages, it is unfortunately closer to literary fiction than it is to magical realism.

The story opens with the classic plotline of boy falls in love with his next-door neighbor who drops him as soon as she becomes pretty and popular in high school, which happens to be where much of the first half of the novel is set. The first half is also my favorite part of the book because it is where most of the humor lies.

Full disclosure, I do not know much about Indian culture. Therefore, I cannot comment on the accuracy or the depth of how it is portrayed here. Given the author’s background, however, I am going to assume it resembles something near the truth; albeit probably watered down for the purposes of catering to the U.S. publishing industry and its target market. 

Although I enjoyed learning about Indian culture, this was difficult for me to review since I am not familiar with much of it and do not have anything to compare it too. Also, apart from my ignorance, I loved the author’s prose more than the story itself. I was expecting a gold heist, but really this was a disguise for themes like suicide, drugs, racism, and depression as well as was a metaphor for what it takes to realize what’s left of the American dream.

Additionally, personality-wise, I was not a huge fan of either Neil or Anita. I tolerated and felt bad for Neil for the first half, but as an ambitious person I could not understand his lack of drive. Anita was the exact opposite for me where she started out as a typical mean girl, but gradually became more tolerable as the story wore on; especially, at the beauty pageant (one of the best scenes in the novel). 

If I had more time to write this review, I feel like this is the type of book I would revisit to ensure personal clarity. On the one hand, the novel is funny, well-written, and contains the fascinating concept of the ability to drink gold for ambition. On the other, I think it would help readers to go in expecting a darker literary fiction novel than how the book blurb describes it and to be prepared for characters who have irritating personalities. 

Knowing this in advance would have probably boosted the book’s rating for me since I would not have been so focused on the fact that it did not conform to advertised expectations and I could have changed my perspective to match that of what the novel really concerned.
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This book was on its way to a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ rating from me, until it wasn't. I loved the first half - it drew me in from the first page, and had me laughing out loud. I was rooting for Neil until we picked up with him 10 years in the future. He wasn't the boy I remembered, and I was no longer invested in his story. Don't get me wrong, I wanted things to work out for him, but I couldn't let myself be swept away with the story.
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Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian is a promising debut. This immigrant tale of magical realism kept me hooked throughout. While Neil is not necessarily the most likeable character, I understand his character arc and why he made the decisions he did. I would have loved more of a backstory for Lakshmi and Anjali - a book centred around the three generations of the women would have been great!
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Sanjena Sathian managed to craft a fun, enjoyable novel out of this fascinating concept. She manages, throughout the story, to have one foot firmly rooted in realism, and another rooted in a more magical sphere. There's a very dry humor to it. I also appreciated how the novel managed to bring in heavier themes of diaspora angst, mental health, and success through a capitalist lens into the lighter tone. There's also a tangible tension between generations, and even within generations. The sense of resentment is strong, which cast a shadow on the dynamics of family and community. On an unrelated note, the cover is stunning! I was drawn to the book by the story, but the cover is a real standout!
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𝑮𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝑫𝒊𝒈𝒈𝒆𝒓𝒔, the debut novel from Sanjena Sathian, is where ambition meets alchemy. Neil Narayan, a teenager of Indian immigrants living in Atlanta, finds himself struggling to find his place in the world.   Neil discovers that Anita and her mother have been making a potion to achieve success by infusing lemonade with gold stolen from their Indian neighbors. In this episode, we talk to journalist Sanjena Sathian about her debut work, how she came about writing her novel, and her teenage experiences as an Indian American in suburban Atlanta.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Press for the Reader's Copy!

Now available. 

What motivates you? Eleven year old Neil Narayan struggles to answer this question as he navigates life in suburban Georgia. Straddled by his older, successful sister Prachi who dreams of becoming Ms. Teen India and the worries of his mother, "american-pherican," Neil looks to find himself among the white and Indian world of Harcourt County. When he discovers that his next door neighbor Anita Dayal has a surefire way of obtaining ambition, he jumps onboard. The adventures the two get into will leave your head spinning, and wishing for a little taste of the golden lemonade yourself. 

What works about this story is the strong magical realism element and the author's poetic language. The concept of drinking liquid gold to steal other people's ambitions is very interesting and the author presents a very cool history of the gold trade in India and the US. What would have worked better for me as a reader is if the story had ended with adolescent Neil. The later half of the book focuses on adult Neil dealing with the very real repercussions of his adolescent actions, such as struggling with addiction, depression and commitment issues. The ending seems a little bit too happy in my opinion.
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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!
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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. . . 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. 

Now the bad part: 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. But the protagonist Neil's character just killed the fun of reading for me. 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: 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 got frustrated with the book 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. I would have been much more happier reading this had it been focused on Anjali & Anita as main characters.
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This may have been a case where I read too much hype about the book before I read it, lessening my enjoyment of the story.

First, the good: I loved reading about the Indian-American experience, ranging from the lone, long-ago gold prospector that follows us through the tale to the modern experience of growing up in the United State with immigrant parents who have set extremely high standards for you. I don't think I've read a book like it, and I loved the story (especially the first half).

I think the book fell a bit flat for me in that the themes (GOLD) were a bit too obvious and stressed, and I feel like the author felt pressure to make some sort of exciting climax to the book when it probably needed a quieter and subtler ending—it almost felt like a weird genre-shift in the last 25% or so. I also simply didn't like the main character very much—I was much more interested in Anita and her mom, and I wonder what the book would have been like if we had followed them in first-person instead of Neil.

Even though I wasn't blown away by the book, it was a pleasant read and I'm really looking forward to what the author writes next.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3952444593
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This book has such a creative premise. This is speculative fiction explores issues of cultural identity to amazing effect!
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I read this one because I interviewed Sathian for my podcast. I enjoyed the creativity of the story and all of the research she conducted for it.  Definitely a unique and interesting tale.
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