One of the gifts of great literature is to allow us passage into the lives of others unnoticed. Such is the case with Ranbir Singh Sidhu’s novel, Deep Singh Blue. His story takes us to a small town in northern California during the mid-1980s. It is the type of community where anyone “different” is sometimes cruelly focused upon. Being neither Hispanic nor African American, Sidhu’s hero, Deep Singh, is Indian. He is different from the usual different, which does not make his sixteen-year-old life any easier. He must come of age in a geography and culture very different from his land of origin, with parents who unabashedly refuse to adapt to their new country. Theirs is still a land of arranged marriages and caste systems and Deep Singh is plunged between two worlds.
Add to this mixture a brother who is suffering from severe mental illness. Deep Singh’s parents lavish praise upon him, making excuses for his increasingly bizarre behavior while constantly belittling Deep Singh to be more like his brother. Deep Singh can see that it is only a matter of time before his brother takes his own life or goes postal in the local mall, making the news as the latest crazy to run amok. It is from this world Deep Singh is anxious to escape.
Enter Deep Singh’s Dark Lady, Lily, a Chinese-American girl he meets in school. They sense the outcast in each other and become friends. But Lily has baggage. She is in an abusive marriage and well on the way to chronic alcoholism. Still, the spotty friendship she offers is enough to make Deep Singh swoon and distract him from the tumult that is his daily life.
Thwarted relationships and missed connections are the wheels upon which this book travels and Sidhu is masterful at it. Deep Singh’s pleas to call attention to his ailing brother is as effective as talking to the house pet. As for Lily, she wouldn’t know what a healthy relationship is even if she looked it up in the DSM and Deep Singh is certainly not far behind her. Sidhu keeps the tension high as you read on to discover who will unravel first. It is the kind of story you are glad to have distance from, yet at the same time, want to barge in and set everybody straight.
Sidhu writes with an easy grace and his prose is a pleasure to read. Don’t be turned away by the seemingly ceaseless conflict. There is hope in this story and each character clings to it in their own desperate ways. Deep Singh Blue is the immigrant answer to Tolstoy’s unhappy families. The denouement will make you glad Sidhu allowed you a peek behind this curtain. And perhaps happy, to have met this family.