Last week I read a fabulous memoir titled The Girl from Foreign by Sadia Shepard (Penguin, 2009).
I’ve read a bit of fiction set in India, but haven’t found many memoirs. Shepard has such an interesting and complicated family history that India here serves more as a backdrop than the end all and be all of the book.
When Sadia Shepard was a little girl, she learned that her Muslim Pakistani grandmother was born Rachel Jacobs, a member of the Bene Israel Jewish community in Bombay. Just before Nana passed away, she asked Sadia to go to India to learn about her life there.
What follows is how Sadia moves to India, uncovers family secrets, and questions her own identity. Is she Muslim like her mother or Christian like her father or Jewish like Nana before she converted to Islam?
Sadia chronicles a budding relationship with an Indian filmmaker that melds nicely with her quest to find the remaining Bene Israel community in Bombay and its outskirts. She too is a filmmaker and created a documentary tracing Nana’s Bene Israel roots.
If you’re interested in the Jewish diaspora, India before Partition, or the current states of India and Pakistan, you’ll enjoy The Girl from Foreign.