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REVIEW: Peanut Butter and Naan

Jennifer Magnuson has five kids, and her husband Bob is successful enough that she can stay home to raise them. She yearns for some adventure though, and welcomes the chance for the whole family to move to India for a year. She brings all the wrong stuff and has no idea what she is getting into – but she assures us that she’s like this all the time, not just when she’s moving to India.
Magnuson skitters over the top of her Indian experience, barely able to breathe. The only things she can compare to the surprises she encounters are events from her past in America, and most of her readers are already familiar with America – there could have been much more of India in the book. It has a kind of “India for Dummies” feel to it which I didn’t find “hilarious,” as many other reviewers did.  I was searching out the meat of the book.
She goes through a stage which many Americans go through when they land in foreign countries (and presumably vice-versa), she tries to turn India into America. She is offended by the offhand treatment of household staff, and decides to turn India into America by bringing “our Western way of equality and meritocracy to the way we interact with our staff.” (Apparently, she has not yet read The Help, or Nickeled and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich. I found myself making a comparison to American soldiers being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to turn them into Western democracies.) Having five children makes a person adaptable and resilient, and when this grand scheme does not work out as she expected, she focuses her generosity on a gaggle of Indian orphans on the edge of extinction.
Halfway through the book she has moved “have grand adventure and meaningful life experiences” to the bottom of her list (it started at the top). She’ll be glad if by the end of the day she hasn’t run into a cow in the street, or stepped in a construction worker’s poop, or fallen into a sinkhole, or contracted a dread disease. Getting herself and her family into and out of India is her ultimate accomplishment, and readers join her in indulging  a sigh of relief when they are all safely home.