Thursday, February 11, 2016

Goodreads Awards Challenge: Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar

Goodreads Awards Challenge: Yes, My Accent is Real by Kunal Nayyar

Of all the charming misfits on television, there's no doubt Raj from The Big Bang Theory--the sincere yet incurably geeky Indian-American astrophysicist--ranks among the misfittingest.  Now, we meet the actor who is every bit as lovable as the character he plays on TV.  In this revealing collection of essays written in his irreverent, hilarious, and self-deprecating voice, Kunal Nayyar traces his journey from a little boy in New Dehli who mistakes an awkward first kiss for a sacred commitment, gets nosebleeds chugging Coca-Cola to impress other students, and excels in the sport of badminton, to the confident, successful actor on the set of TV's most-watched sitcom since Friends.

Going behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory and into his personal experiences, Kunal introduces readers to the people who helped him grow, such as his James Bond-loving, mustachioed father who taught him the most important lessons in life: Treat a begger as you would a king.  There are two sides to every story.  A smile goes a long way.  And, when in doubt, use a spreadsheet.  Kunal also walks us through his college years in Portland, where he takes his first sips of alcohol and learns to let loose with his French, 6'8" gentle-giant roommate, works his first-ever job for the university's housekeeping department cleaning toilets for minimum wage, and begins a series of romantic exploits that go just about as well as they would for Raj.  (That is, until he meets and marries a former Miss India in an elaborate seven-day event we get to experience in a chapter titled "My Big Fat Indian Wedding.")

Full of heart, but never taking itself too seriously, this witty and often inspiring collection of underdog tales follows a young man as he traverses two continents in search of a dream, along the way transcending culture and language (and many, many embarrassing incidents) to somehow miraculously land the role of a lifetime.

I am a big fan of The Big Bang Theory, so when I saw that Kunal Nayyar had a book nominated for a Goodreads Awards I put a hold on it at my library hoping it would be as enjoyable as his character Raj.  And it was.  The reminder that Raj is simply a character embodied by Kunal comes early but Kunal's voice in the essays that he writes is incredibly enjoyable.  It feels like a cool guy is kicking back on your couch with you regaling you with stories from his life that make you laugh one minute, commiserate the next, and get teary-eyed the moment after that.  

Kunal has had some fascinating life experiences but most of the stories he tells feels like they could happen to anyone--he is both extremely unique and utterly relatable.  I enjoyed that about him.  His stories span from childhood to his wedding to Neha and range from childhood anecdotes to how he became an actor.  I enjoyed the vast majority of them although I did skim one or two.  I don't read a ton of non-fiction but I very much enjoyed this departure from my normal reading diet.  I think I would enjoy meeting Kunal in real life; I know I would enjoy meeting his father (read the book, you'll feel the same!)  

This is the first book of 2016 that has taken me out of my comfort zone and it was a very positive experience.  I can only hope that the rest of the year is filled with similar experiences with similar results.  

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