Lawrence D’Sai is the firstborn son of a firstborn son, part of a line that stretches back generations. He’s also a Konkan—a member of the Catholic minority of the western coast of India, converted in the 1500s by Vasco da Gama and St. Francis Xavier. When Denise, an American Peace Corps volunteer, arrives in Chikmagalur, Lawrence’s father sees the opportunity to truly transform his son’s life, and plays matchmaker. Denise sees the marriage as a way to keep her love and admiration for India and its culture with her forever, and Lawrence sees the marriage as his ticket to America and prosperity.
When the newlyweds arrive in the United States in the early 1970s, Lawrence immediately begins the slow and often cruel process of assimilating into American culture. He is successful at his job at an insurance company, but despite his ambition and his attempts to fit in, his ethnic background relegates him to outsider status. Meanwhile, Denise realizes that the life of a suburban housewife is stifling her free spirit, and she takes up with Lawrence’s brother Sam, a recent immigrant who still maintains his love and respect for his native culture.
Folklore, history, and family narrative intertwine in this engrossing novel. By using Lawrence and Denise’s firstborn son Francisco as the narrator, as well as a nonlinear style that slowly reveals further detail about each member of Francisco’s extended family, the stories of all of the members of the D’Sai family are revealed through innocent, unprejudiced eyes. Told with warmth, humor, and finesse, The Konkans is a richly-layered novel of the emotional ties that bind a family together—and the inner turmoil that can tear a family apart.