Sikhism - Under The Lemon Trees | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
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Sikhism Under The Lemon Trees


Jun 1, 2004
Under the Lemon Trees by Bhira Backhaus
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Product Description

A beautifully written debut novel of a young Indian woman struggling between embracing her heritage and fitting in as an American.
In Oak Grove, California, 1976, there are as many Sikh temples as Christian churches, the city council has voted to print announcements in both English and Punjabi and the growing Indian immigrant community learns to thrive in the small agricultural town while clinging to its cultural traditions. But for 15-year-old Jeeto, figuring out where she fits best—and what she must do to find that fit—isn’t as easy.

Jeeto learns that the women around her do far more than drink tea on balmy California afternoons—they give shape to fortune and destiny…often accompanied by the predictions of the revered Charan Kaur. In a world of arranged marriages and strict family politics, Jeeto struggles to reconcile the possibilities of freedom and love.

A multi-generational love story that stretches back to 1947 when Jeeto’s uncle, Avtar, emigrates to California, Under the Lemon Trees is a cultural and romantic tour de force about finding love and discovering a true home while navigating traditions, family and faith.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Backhaus's debut novel explores love, loss and the tangled web of family in the matriarchal Oak Grove, Calif., Sikh community of 1976. Teenage narrator Jeeto is already caught between two worlds, the college-bound crowd of her American classmates and the traditional marriage, arranged by her mother, to an unknown young man from India. Through Jeeto's conflict, Backhaus explores the tension between the traditional and the new in her sister, relatives and neighbors. Uncle Avtar, who fled India for a life of opportunity, loses his heart to an American waitress, but finds his loyalty to the Sikh community pulling him back into the fold. Jeeto's sister, Neelam, in love with a young man of undesirable parentage, passively accepts her arranged marriage to a stranger, while Jeeto's friend Surinder openly rebels against community mores. Intertwined, their stories of loss, connection and the search for identity create a rich, sensuous portrait of a culture in transition; unfortunately, her myriad cast is populated largely by stock characters, keeping Backhaus's world from coming fully alive. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School—This lovely debut novel takes place in California's Central Valley in the late 1970s. Jeeta Rai is the younger daughter of a Punjabi family living among the orchards of Oak Grove, where her uncle Avtar acquired land some 30 years earlier. She grows up between the American and Indian worlds and learns about the perils of balancing love with family tradition through three different love stories: her own, her sister Neelam's, and Avtar's. As the story opens, Neelam is being hurriedly married off to a promising young man from India, despite the fact that she is in love with a local boy. As Jeeta helps Avtar plan a festival commemorating the founding of the first local gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), she learns about his lost first love and how he came to be married to her Aunt Teji. Jeeta has a crush on Pritam, the son of the local matchmaker, but her feelings for him conflict with her family's desires and her own desire to attend the University of California at Berkeley. These stories merge seamlessly into a portrait of a family maintaining its own culture while blending into a new one. Teens who enjoyed Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake (Houghton, 2003) will find similar themes here, but in a very different setting.—Sarah Flowers, formerly at Santa Clara County Library, CA

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Backhaus’ first novel is an ambitious portrait of an Indian American community in northern California as seen through the eyes of teenage Jeeta, who longs to leave the suffocating traditions of her extended family and go to college at UC Berkeley. Her traditionalist mother is terrified that she will make some of the same mistakes that almost ruined the life of her older sister, however, and wants to keep Jeeta at home until an arranged marriage can take place. The clash of old and new cultures is becoming commonplace in contemporary novels of assimilation, and Backhaus doesn’t break much, if any, new ground here. However, the author herself grew up in California’s Central Valley as the daughter of immigrant Indian parents and clearly knows her setting and subject intimately. An extended subplot about Jeeta’s uncle’s early years in America provides additional context but is structurally awkward and occasionally distracting. --Michael Cart

<hr> Customer Reviews

Fantastic First Novel!

An amazing debut novel about a Sikh family in 1970's America struggling to preserve their Indian values and culture, but also to "fit" in the culture of the US.

I was drawn in very quickly to Neelam and Jeeto and their day to day lives in school and as they fall in and out of love, graduate from high school and the expectations that they soon face immediately after that. Both girls are faced with the the expectation of marrying young, but also want to learn who they are as individuals. They have friends, fall in love and in the face of tragedy, learn to grow into independent women.

Ms. Backhaus also tells readers how the family settled in California as the past is interwoven into the present. The flashbacks are amazing and give valuable insight into the family and their beliefs. As the story progresses, you learn about how the families are connected in more ways then the obvious (I won't spoil the story) and I found myself having a hard time putting the book down.

Overall, this is a fantastic first novel for Bhira Backhaus and I can't wait to read what she writes next! For all that are interested in learning about different cultures in the US, this is a great book to pick up. Backhaus' writing is beautiful and it flows very easily from paragraph to paragraph. Highly recommended!

And when you think you understand where the story is find out that you don't!

In "Under the Lemon Trees," Bhira Backhaus provides an intriguing picture of what it was like to grow up Sikh in agricultural northern California. Most of us have long forgotten the struggle of acculturation, especially for a teenager! The story is interesting and well-crafted throughout, then at about the ¾ point several entirely unexpected subplots are introduced that made it nearly impossible for me to put the book down. A great read!
A fun weaving of East and West, past and present

I've read a number of Indian American novels, tales of families and tradition, transplants and culture shock. This one was well done. The book was not too maudlin, but still realistic in the ups and downs of the lives of the characters. The language was lush and evocative as you were lead through the stories of the various characters linked by family and tradition. I enjoyed the interweaving of past and present as the tales of several generations were told on top of each other.

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