Deep Singh Blue by Ranbir Singh Sidhu c. 2016 (243 pages—The Unnamed Press)

Dark and poignant, this book explores issues of bias, bigotry, love, and violence. The protagonist, Deep Singh, who was born in the US, feels the force of dislocation and dis-belonging—caught between his parents’ homeland of India and his current life in 1980s, conservative NorCal farm country. While his bother suffers from mental illness and his mother and father continually fight, Deep seeks to escape with his complicated muse, a married woman named Lily.

Sentences Worth Studying

  • “A winding drive took me along blank boulevards with their cross-eyed strip malls and condos screaming in a pastel-colored language all their own. I punched the lighter, waited for it to pop, and lit a cigarette” (1).
  • “When they arrived, they knew less about America than I had ever known about India, which meant they knew practically nothing. They weren’t doctors or engineers, neither had much of an education; they were the other Indians, the ones who don’t get talked about and whose stories don’t get written—the children of farmers, not even farmers themselves when they left. It was history with a small h—the kind that happens to ordinary people, not to countries—that tossed themselves like a handful of pebbles across the map of the world” (2).
  • “I turned and looked around the diner . . . There it was, in everyone’s face, the unspoken sorrow of daily life. My own small troubles deserted me and I was filled with an odd sorta love for these strangers and the daily hardships of their lives” (4).
  • “Was this Spinoza’s perfect world? I wondered that night as I sat watching Dad grunt at the television. For that’s what the dead philosopher meant: that they world is perfect, exactly as it is. There was only one response, Spinoza wrote, to such perfection: moderation, plain and simple, as passive regulation of emotion in the face of all of life’s upheavals” (20).
  • “I wondered then if this was some kind of test—a love test—and if it was, whether I’d passed it or not. A wild thrill ran up my body as I nosed the car through the afternoon traffic, then out onto increasingly deserted boulevards heading east. People had money on this side of town, and the lawns unrolled to the curb like great green tongues. If you took a wrong step around here, you were liable to be swallowed up and eaten” (27).
  • “The heavy bass beat of a Frankie Goes to Hollywood number started up and I was left trembling in the frenetic cathode ray half-light of the video. An indentation on the sofa remained where Jag had sat, as if a ghost Jag were still there, staring at me, whispering that word. [Die]” (38).
  • “The terror I’d expected to feel, lying out in the open, exposed to the elements, prey to an animal or criminal, didn’t materialize. Something different happened. A feeling of security wrapped around me. There I was, at the mercy of the universe. Never before in all my life had I felt more protected” (44).
  • “If you looked at Jag sideways, out of the corner of your eye, there was always the desert prophet visible rattling around inside him, the wild man in the wilderness preaching to tumbleweeds and prairie dogs, speaking equal measure of gloom and salvation” (48).
  • “A couple times Lily and I caught the matinee at the dollar theater and I felt, in that closed-up, dark hall, the ferocity of her physical presence, as if I were being sucked down into the heart of a dark star” (68).
  • “His name was a minefield, and I kept stepping on the trigger. I was also useless at pronouncing my own, which no one had told me before. I was glad when we reached home and I could lock myself away and think about Dylan Thomas and my future life as a drunk” (76).
  • “I marveled at how we seemed to circle certain spots: the same row at the dollar theater, the same booth at the diner, the same winding roads through the hills. It was as if we were spinning on an actual orbit and our lives were nothing but an expression of its track through the heavens” (85).
  • “As Jag’s silence deepened, Mom’s prescriptions grew in number and the bag of pills I brought home grew larger, with longer and stranger names, odder shapes, and brighter colors. / I tried a couple and spent the day sailing through a gauzy haze. Everything felt soft and pastel colored. I wondered if this was how Mom now saw the world. If felt like being continually pummeled with a fist made of cotton wool” (128).
  • “Lily and I would found our own nation, hidden in the heart of this world, fight for it and die if necessary. / If I squinted I could almost see it, a shadowland in all this light, beyond the highways and the flattened towns, high up in the mountains, or near the ocean, not even a dot on a map, but somewhere placeless, out of tune with the world around it, where even orphans might find a foothold” (152-153).
  • “The old poets, the dead ones I would come to read, wrote that tragedy is born from a defect in character, that our fates are twinned with the deepest impulses of our souls. I would learn something different. The birth of tragedy is silence, and the birth of silence is failure to see” (156).
  • “Weeks later, as I wandered lost, an outcast on the desolate northern coast, little more than an orphan, I’d think back to that afternoon as I retreated out of the diner and ask myself if it was my rage that day, and in the days to come, that left me blind” (157).
  • “I pulled away and stood, and a sudden, surging hatred blasted through me. It had been him, all these years, around whom we had all circled, the great silence around which our own petty silences were built” (170).
  • “I passed the evenings driving along Valley roads with no destination in mind. One day, bored with flatlands, I took the road north, where the untamed switchbacks were a revelation. They rose above the mist and swept out over the water so it felt like you were going to be shot out into space, then whipsawed back into the land and the canopy of trees on either side. I’d hit the pedal, spin the wheel with one hand, slam the brake, twist, let the wheel slide out between my fingers, crush the clutch and shift down and punch the accelerator once more, and all the while the wide ocean lay at my feet and I felt like a small-change god or a great eagle soaring over his domain” (192).
  • “Maybe if I had fought harder, shouted louder, insisted that Jag get help, he would be alive today. None of us was blameless—we all contributed to the silence—but that didn’t exonerate me. Banishment, as ancient a punishment as there ever was, seemed fitting for so ancient a crime as killing your brother” (236).
  • “Grief fades with time, it dies, or transforms, and becomes a hum at the back of the mind, and even that loses its power, and soon you wonder at the young man you were, who stared back shell-shocked every morning from the bathroom mirror, a ghost’s ghost, for whom it was torture to lift his razor to his cheek” (237).
  • “There are no countries, there are no nations, only people, the dead and living, and to be among the living is to owe a great debt to the dead” (243).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
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