Book Reviews: Debut Novels offer heartwarming reading

This review of The Windfall, by Diksha Basu and South Pole Station, by Ashley Shelby was originally published in Steamboat Pilot.

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The Windfall: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780451498915
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Crown - June 27th, 2017

Diksha Basu's debut novel, "The Windfallm" is a delightful, warm-hearted comedy of manners that explores class, wealth, culture and love.

Mr. and Mrs. Jha have lived a modest life in a crowded apartment building in Delhi, India, for the past 30 years. Then, unexpectedly, the Jhas find themselves enormously wealthy after Mr. Jha sells the website he has been working on privately for many years. He decides to move his wife across town to an ultra-affluent neighborhood where he is overly eager to fit in.

Mrs. Jha is less enthusiastic about the move to a place where one never sees his or her neighbors and each house requires a guard to open and close the gate once per day. She understands her husband's desire to make a better life and does her best to adjust and engage with the moneyed, but rather dull, people next door.

Meanwhile, their only son, Rupak, is halfheartedly working on his MBA at Ithaca College in New York. It is not quite Cornell but is located in the same town, nonetheless, which Mr. Jha never hesitates to point out. Rupak is in love with a blond-haired, blue-eyed American girl named Elizabeth, whom he knows will never win his parents' approval, since, after all, she is most decidedly not Indian and therefore not suitable for marriage into the Jha family.

This is really a story about meeting the expectations of others, or rather, what we think others expect of us, versus what is truly in our hearts.

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South Pole Station: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781250112828
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Picador - July 3rd, 2017

Set in the farthest, most remote region of the globe, "South Pole Station" is the story of a collection of quirky scientists, doctors, cooks, construction workers and misfit artists gathered at the South Pole Research Station to study climate change. Anyone who loves the television series "MASH" will enjoy Ashley Shelby's smart, funny and delightful debut novel.

The book's main character, Cooper Gosling, is a 30-year-old artist struggling to cope with a family tragedy and her life's direction. She applies for a National Science Foundation Antarctic Artists & Writers Program fellowship and is accepted, pending a thorough physical and psychological assessment that includes questions like, "Would you rather be a florist or a truck driver?" True or false – "I am in important person."

As Cooper adjusts to life with her fellow "Polies" in a place where the average temperature during the summer is -56.7 degrees. Into the mix of 'Beakers," or brainy scientists, enters a climate denialist whose research is being funded by two congressmen with less than ethical motives. Of course, anarchy ensues as the "real scientists" take action to sabotage his efforts.

I read this book while on a 34-mile backpack trip in the Wyoming wilderness. As I slogged through icy stream crossings or balanced precariously on slippery rocks trying to stay dry, I could not help but wonder why people go to extreme places. Is it to lose themselves, or is it to find themselves?