All This Could Be Different” by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Sarah Thankam Mathews’ debut novel was a finalist for the 2022 National Book Award

In this powerful and engrossing debut coming-of-age novel from Sarah Thankam Mathews about a queer South Asian millennial immigrant woman in her twenties in mid-2000s Midwest America, the author paints a beautiful and complex world of our main protagonist, Sneha, who has just graduated and is coming to terms with her new life, finding her bearings, and reckoning with finding love and relationships.

Undoubtedly, Mathews’ novel is a gut punch as readers are taken back in the mid-2000s recession period as Sneha attempts to navigate and make sense of her life as she deals with the unnerving guilt for having a job when others who graduated with her are returning to home to live with their parents. Mathews brilliantly paints the picture of a woman who exists in precarity as her existence is felt constantly under threat (her boss and landlord are dominating and exploitative), her lover, Marina demands more than gives, and Sneha constantly feels that she is not enough.

Cover of "All This Could Be Different"

Ultimately, Mathews’ novel gives us an insight into an immigrant experience in which the main character explores the blurred lines of freedom to remain who she is (discussing Marxist and queer theory), while at the same time, experiencing moments of awkwardness and unacceptance from those who play an important role in allowing her to exist in America.

Through her narrative, we see the complexities and nuances of those who live in the United States and are granted visas due to work authorization, and are placed in jobs in which their work visa is always held as a threat against them. Moreover, at the heart of this novel, is the way in which Mathews explores with nuance salient themes that include the aftereffects of capitalism, gender, sexuality, childhood trauma, and Western individualism.

“All This Could Be Different” was also a finalist for the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction.

Nidhi Shrivastava, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Languages and Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences at Sacred Heart University.

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