When the recently widowed Pival Sengupta of Kolkata books a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, she's not planning a sightseeing extravaganza typical of upper-class Indian tourists. Her mission on this, her first trip overseas, is to find out the truth about her adored but estranged son, Rahi, who had been living in California. Rahi had only recently come out as gay--devastating news to his very traditional parents--when Pival's husband received a phone call saying Rahi had died suddenly. Or had he?
The tour itself, planned by indefatigable tour company owner Ronnie Munshi, is a work of haphazard improvisation. Ronnie has claimed his slice of the American dream and built a successful business catering to affluent Indian visitors, even if he's not entirely forthcoming with certain details, like the fact that he and his staff are from Bangladesh, not India (a distinction that makes a world of difference to Bangladeshis--and Indians). The guide Ronnie selects for Pival's cross-country trip is an earnest rookie named Satya, who arrived in New York only a year earlier and has never actually left the five boroughs. But Satya is respectful and resourceful, and Ronnie feels sure that if he can just find the right female chaperone to accompany them on the tour--for modesty's sake--his rich lady client is sure to get her money's worth. Enter Rebecca Elliot, a twentysomething aspiring actress whose career isn't quite taking off. Accompanying Satya and Pival will pay more than she's made in months. How hard can it be?
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Slowly making her way from coast to coast with her unlikely companions, Pival finds that her understanding of her son--and her hopes of a reunion with him--are challenged by her growing knowledge of his adoptive country. As the bonds between this odd trio deepens, Pival, Satya, and Rebecca learn to see America--and themselves--in different and profound new ways.
A bittersweet and bighearted tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, America for Beginners illuminates the unexpected enchantments life can hold, and reminds us that our most precious connections aren't always the ones we seek.