The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a hefty 500-page, multi-generational family saga. The novel follows the story of an Indian family who immigrate to America, moving between three timelines – India in the 1970s, New Mexico in the 1980s, and Seattle and New Mexico in the 1990s. The timelines are all connected, although to say how here would spoil the unfolding story.

Amina is at the centre of the narrative: a struggling teenager in the 1980s and an almost-30-year-old wedding photographer, still trying to figure out her life, in the 1990s. Amina’s teenage years make for the most compelling sections of the book, as she discovers a passion for photography, grapples with her place in the social hierarchy at school and worries about her brother’s increasingly odd behaviour.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is a big, sometimes messy novel that covers a lot of ground, gently exploring how grief and loss can irrecoverably change a family over time. It is also a novel about belonging, and provides a fascinating look at a family divided by their idea of what constitutes ‘home’. Amina’s mother, Kamala, misses India, but her father, a successful surgeon, never wants to leave America. As a teenager, Amina observes the growing tension in her parents’ marriage with concern: her mother ‘could perch anywhere in the house, so riddled with fury that she seemed not to see anything in front of her’ and Amina’s increasingly absent father is just ‘a blur coming or going to the hospital’. This depiction of a deeply complicated marriage is one of the novel’s great strengths.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing is an engaging portrait of a family and an ambitious debut. While the plotting occasionally veers off track, the characters are funny, vibrant and so alive as to be jumping off the page.

Nina Kenwood is the digital marketing manager for Readings.