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The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
Cover of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing
A Novel
Borrow Borrow
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE BOSTON GLOBE, KIRKUS REVIEWS, BUSTLE, AND EMILY GOULD, THE MILLIONS
For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Mona Simpson, and Jhumpa Lahiri comes a winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past.


With depth, heart, and agility, debut novelist Mira Jacob takes us on a deftly plotted journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is an epic, irreverent testimony to the bonds of love, the pull of hope, and the power of making peace with life's uncertainties.

Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle.

Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina's rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier. Confronted by Thomas's unwillingness to explain himself, strange looks from the hospital staff, and a series of puzzling items buried in her mother's garden, Amina soon realizes that the only way she can help her father is by coming to terms with her family's painful past. In doing so, she must reckon with the ghosts that haunt all of the Eapens.

Praise for The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

"With wit and a rich understanding of human foibles, Jacob unspools a story that will touch your heart."—People

"Optimistic, unpretentious and refreshingly witty."—Associated Press

"By turns hilarious and tender and always attuned to shifts of emotion . . . [Jacob's] characters shimmer with life."—Entertainment Weekly

"A rich, engrossing debut told with lightness and care."The Kansas City Star

"[A] sprawling, poignant, often humorous novel . . . Told with humor and sympathy for its characters, the book serves as a bittersweet lesson in the binding power of family, even when we seek to break out from it."O: The Oprah Magazine

"Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow. . . . When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things."—The Boston Globe

"This is an effortlessly gorgeous and rich book. Its prose is lovely and precise, alternately luminous and direct; its observations of people and families and the physical world are poignant and a delight. The dialogue is sharp, funny, and true. This is a triumphant debut!"—Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir!

"Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; . . . both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
From the Hardcover edition.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE BOSTON GLOBE, KIRKUS REVIEWS, BUSTLE, AND EMILY GOULD, THE MILLIONS
For fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Meg Wolitzer, Mona Simpson, and Jhumpa Lahiri comes a winning, irreverent debut novel about a family wrestling with its future and its past.


With depth, heart, and agility, debut novelist Mira Jacob takes us on a deftly plotted journey that ranges from 1970s India to suburban 1980s New Mexico to Seattle during the dot.com boom. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is an epic, irreverent testimony to the bonds of love, the pull of hope, and the power of making peace with life's uncertainties.

Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle.

Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina's rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier. Confronted by Thomas's unwillingness to explain himself, strange looks from the hospital staff, and a series of puzzling items buried in her mother's garden, Amina soon realizes that the only way she can help her father is by coming to terms with her family's painful past. In doing so, she must reckon with the ghosts that haunt all of the Eapens.

Praise for The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing

"With wit and a rich understanding of human foibles, Jacob unspools a story that will touch your heart."—People

"Optimistic, unpretentious and refreshingly witty."—Associated Press

"By turns hilarious and tender and always attuned to shifts of emotion . . . [Jacob's] characters shimmer with life."—Entertainment Weekly

"A rich, engrossing debut told with lightness and care."The Kansas City Star

"[A] sprawling, poignant, often humorous novel . . . Told with humor and sympathy for its characters, the book serves as a bittersweet lesson in the binding power of family, even when we seek to break out from it."O: The Oprah Magazine

"Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow. . . . When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things."—The Boston Globe

"This is an effortlessly gorgeous and rich book. Its prose is lovely and precise, alternately luminous and direct; its observations of people and families and the physical world are poignant and a delight. The dialogue is sharp, funny, and true. This is a triumphant debut!"—Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir!

"Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; . . . both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=Windows-1252">

    <p class="">Chapter 1
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"Traitors! Cowards! Good-for-nothings!" Ammachy had yelled in 1979, finishing the conversation that would finish her relationship with her son, as Thomas would only come back to India to bury her.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">But what a calamity! An abomination! Divorced from the mother and the motherland in one fell swoop? Who could have seen such a thing coming? Certainly not Amina, who by age eleven was well versed enough in tragedy (she had seen The Champ and Kramer vs. Kramer) to understand that it came with tinkling music and bad weather.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">And what was there to fear from the sunlight that dappled the Salem train station the morning of their arrival, making everything—the packed luggage and the red-shirted coolies and even the beggars—seem sweet and full of promise? Nothing, Amina thought, stepping down onto the platform and into the funk of other people's armpits. Plump arms sheathed in sari blouses brushed her cheeks, chai-wallahs shouted into car windows, and a coolie reached impatiently for bags she was not carrying. Somewhere above the din she heard someone calling her father's name.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"Over there, Dad," Akhil said, pointing at something Amina couldn't see, and Thomas gripped her by the shoulders and propelled her forward.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"Babu!" He clapped an old man on the back. "Good to see you!"
    <p class="">
    <p class="">Wrapped in a bulky dhobi and skinny as ever, Babu smiled a toothless smile, his resemblance to a malnourished baby belying his ability to toss large objects onto his head and carry them through crowds, as he did with all four of the family suitcases. Outside the station, Preetham, the driver, loaded the freshly polished Ambassador, while beggars surrounded them, pointing to the children's sneakers and then to their own hungry mouths, as if their appetites could be satisfied by Nikes.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"Ami, come!" Kamala called, opening the car door, and once everyone else had taken their places (Preetham and Thomas in the front seat, Akhil, Kamala, and Amina in the back, Babu standing proudly on the back fender), they began the four-block ride home.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">Unlike the rest of the family, Thomas's parents had long ago left Kerala for the drier plains of Tamil Nadu. Settling in a large house at the edge of town, Ammachy and Appachen had opened a combined clinic (she was an ophthalmologist; he was an ENT), and before his sudden death by heart attack at the age of forty-five, they saw 70 percent of the heads in Salem.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"A golden time," Ammachy would spit at anyone within distance, going on to list everything since that had disappointed her. Top of her list: her eldest son choosing to marry "the darkie" and move to America when she had arranged for him to marry Kamala's much lighter cousin and live in Madras; her youngest son becoming a dentist producing "the no-brains" instead of becoming a doctor and producing another doctor; the many movie theaters and hospitals that had since sprung up around the house, penetrating it with noise and smells.
    <p class="">
    <p class="">"Bloody Christ," Thomas breathed as they turned onto Tamarind Road, and Amina followed his gaze. "You can't even see the house anymore!"
    <p class="">
    <p class="">This was true. It was also true that what could be...
About the Author-
  • Mira Jacob is the founder of Pete's Reading Series in New York City and has an MFA from the New School for Social Research. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Mira Jacob infuses her novel with a precise earnestness, maintaining enthusiasm throughout various decades of protagonist Amina's life. Jacob's rapid delivery of the dialogue, along with a variety of raised pitches and emphatic tones, cast Amina's dilemmas into a humorous light. As the story moves from the U.S. to India and back, Jacob's narration helps listeners make sense of the shifts in chronology. She also ensures that the Indian names and phrases are comprehensible. Any limitations of her narration stem from her writing style. Her sentences tend to be lengthy and winding, making them difficult for listeners to follow. M.R.
  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 17, 2014
    Toggling back and forth between the early 1980s and late 1990s, Jacob’s emotionally bountiful debut immerses us in the lives of Amina Eapen and her extended Indian-American family, who have lived in Albuquerque, N.Mex., since the late 1960s. In 1998, Amina, then age 30, works as a wedding photographer, having given up a promising photojournalism career after a single picture—a photo of a Native American activist jumping off a bridge—made her notorious. She moved to Seattle to distance herself from her overbearing parents, Kamala and Thomas, but returns home after learning that Thomas, a surgeon, has begun acting strangely. She plans to make it a short trip but decides to stay after her father is diagnosed with a brain tumor. This extended visit forces Amina to confront anew the death of her older brother Akhil, who committed suicide as a teenager, and to rekindle her romance with Jamie Anderson, whose sister was Akhil’s girlfriend. The author has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger. Although overlong, the novel, through its lovingly created and keenly observed characters, makes something new of the Indian immigrant experience in America. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency.

  • O: The Oprah Magazine "[A] sprawling, poignant, often humorous novel that's worth missing cocktails on the deck in order to finish a chapter . . . Told with humor and sympathy for its characters, the book serves as a bittersweet lesson in the binding power of family, even when we seek to break out from it."
  • People
    "With wit and a rich understanding of human foibles, [Mira] Jacob unspools a story that will touch your heart."
  • Entertainment Weekly "This debut novel so fully envelops the reader in the soul of an Indian-American immigrant family that it's heart-wrenching to part with them. . . . Thanks to Jacob's captivating voice, which is by turns hilarious and tender and always attuned to shifts of emotion, her characters shimmer with life. [Grade:] A-"
  • The Boston Globe "Beautifully wrought, frequently funny, gently heartbreaking . . . Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow, and she is remarkably adept at tonal shifts. When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things."
  • The Austin Chronicle "[A]lways engrossing and often feels so true to life that it's a surprise that it's not."
  • The Kansas City Star "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is a rich, engrossing debut told with lightness and care, as smart about grief as it is about the humor required to transcend it."
  • Associated Press

    "Jacob's novel is light and optimistic, unpretentious and refreshingly witty. Jacob has created characters with evident care and treats them with gentleness even as they fight viciously with each other. Her prose is sharp and true and deeply funny. . . . This is the literary fiction I will be recommending to everyone this summer, especially those who love multigenerational, multicultural family sagas."
  • Booklist "Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; Lahiri may be more overtly profound, Jacob more willing to go for comedy, but both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "[Mira Jacob] has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger."--Publishers Weekly

    "Jacob's writing is refreshing, and she excels at creating a powerful bond between the reader and her characters, all wonderfully drawn and with idiosyncratic natures--the mother, Kamala, for instance, is a born-again Christian--that make them enchanting. Recommended for those who like engaging fiction that succeeds in addressing serious issues with some humor."--Library Journal

    "A memorable and dramatic portrait of a family in flux."
  • Abigail Thomas, author of A Three Dog Life
    "Punchy, clever, and stuffed with delicious chapatis, Mira Jacob's first novel jumps effortlessly from India to the States, creating a vibrant portrait of a world in flux."--Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure

    "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing seizes the reader early and never lets go. Its electricities reside in Mira Jacob's acute details and the sadness, anger, and humor of her characters. This novel tells many wonderful stories while also telling, beautifully, the story that counts the most."--Sam Lipsyte, author of The Fun Parts

    "Mira Jacob has written an utterly dazzling, epic debut. The story of an Indian American family is at once completely relatable and totally fresh. A beautifully timed novel, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is intricately woven and sparklingly played out, and it triumphs. I did not want this breathtaking book to end."--Julie Klam, author of Friendkeeping

    "I read this in one sitting. I couldn't have stopped--wouldn't even have noticed--if my house had caught fire. Mira Jacob is a born storyteller and a fantastic writer. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is a truly great book."
  • Jonathan Ames, author of Wake Up, Sir!
    "The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is a time-traveling mult
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