Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Book Review: May This Be the Best Year of Your Life

By Miriam Plotinsky 

“If the best I could do with two graduate degrees was a nanny job, then India looked even better than it had before.”

The above thought from author Sandra Bornstein pretty much sums up a great deal of her memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Bornstein’s book covers the span of a year when, after her husband gets a job overseas, she finds herself living, and ultimately teaching, in India.

Initially, the book appears to be in the Eat, Pray, Love genre of non-fiction, in which a woman of a certain age explores an unfamiliar country and culture only to emerge from the experience revitalized. As the story progresses, Bornstein spends the majority of the book chronicling the various struggles and roadblocks she encountered on her journey. Large numbers of people in the book, from a rabbi in Colorado to fellow teaching colleagues to workers in government agencies all make Bornstein’s year difficult. Though the book’s title sounds optimistic, a better title might have been something along the lines of My Struggles with Bureaucracy.

At times funny (Bornstein has a great many run-ins with monkeys in India) but mainly straightforward, the book reads like what it is: a collection of thoughts that Bornstein assembled from journaling, blogging, and her own memory. The result, while meticulously detailed and vivid, is so immersed in the little moments as they occur one after another that there is no real overarching picture or thematic thread. The best scenes in the book center on events in India, especially teaching scenes, in which Bornstein describes classroom events with a lot of energy and obvious passion.

As is appropriate with memoir, a strong sense of “I” also pervades the text, and though Bornstein talks frequently and lovingly about her family, it’s clear that this journey to India, initially taken with her husband Ira, becomes hers alone. In fact, though Bornstein initially moves to India because Ira has been outsourced, she eventually leaves him in the United States after he endures a serious skiing accident and forges ahead on her own as a teacher in India. Her sense of adventure is palpable, but it’s not quite clear why Bornstein leaves her nearly incapacitated husband alone in America when her initial reason for moving to India is to be with him.

The book ends on a puzzling note, with Bornstein back in Colorado and teaching in a school “where only some students cared to listen and most ignored me.” The reader gets the sense that, as with the previous year, Bornstein will wind up butting heads with more than a few people in her pursuit of the life she wants. It’s hard to believe that this new school will provide Bornstein with what she hopes “could be the best year of my life,” but her optimism is a nice way in which to end, even though the story does cut off abruptly.

Bornstein’s memoir is a good read for anyone who might be considering living overseas as a means by which to achieve a life transition. Furthermore, the descriptions of various locations within India are both entertaining and informative. Though her year away doesn’t provide Bornstein with the best year of her life, it certainly sounds like it was a worthwhile experience.

Thanks to Sandra Bornstein for the book in exchange for an honest review. This is part of Sandra's blog tour.

Miriam Plotinsky is an English and creative writing teacher. She lives in the DC/Metro area with her husband and three kids, who occasionally give her the time she needs to write and eat sushi.

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