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Review: A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda 

Review: A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda 

Editorial note: I received a copy of A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

A Great Country by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is an impactful story about family, race and politics.

This is the first novel I’ve read from Shilpi Somaya Gowda and I’m huge fan now! Her writing is really well done and engaging. She created both an interesting sense of place and the characters felt unique and real.

A Great Country is promoted for fans of Little Fires Everywhere and Such a Fun Age, and I think are exactly the right comps for this read. But it’s also distinct and stands on its own as well. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

What’s the Story About

The story takes place in Pacific Hills, Ca., a seemingly ideal place to raise a family. This is why the Shah family left behind Irvine to move into a fancy new house and neighborhood. The Shah parents came to America twenty years earlier with little more than an education and their new marriage. And for them, this house represents American success. However, for the children, born and raised in America, their perspective on success is quite different.

Everything comes to a grinding halt when the Shah’s twelve-year-old son is arrested. The fallout from that event will shake each family member’s perception of themselves as individuals, as community members, as Americans, and will lead each to consider: how do we define success?

The Shah Family

I really liked the Shah family and the author did a great job of presenting each of their perspectives of the five family members. As a reader, you really get to know this family and what makes everyone tick. We learn what’s really behind some of the minor disagreements and overall, I just thought this family was quite richly drawn.

The father, Ashok, was happy to move to America where he could leave behind feeling like a lower class citizen in India. But success took a while for Ashok and while doing well with his own business now, he never quite feels like he’s made it—until moving to Pacific Hills. But that comes at a cost as well.

Priya is the mother and she loves her family. And while she enjoys her and Ashok’s business success, she’s not quite as comfortable with Pacific Hills and would prefer to stay back in Irvine with their beloved friends.

The three children—Deepa, Maya and Ajay—are as different as can be. And each has a different perspective on this move. Deepa is well-versed in social justice and she’s frustrated her parents won’t take an active role. Maya tries to assimilate with the well-off white neighbors, but loses a bit of herself in the process. And Ajay is happy to work on robotics and legos, but he is has trouble with social interactions.

It’s a lot of characters and storylines to balance and I feel the author did a great job of making sure it all fit in together.

Modern American Dream

For many immigrants, the promised American Dream isn’t always as easy as portrayed. What is the American Dream now? Success? Big houses? Big families? With inflation out of control, I don’t know what the answer is anymore.

For instance, Ashok believes a big house in a fancy California neighborhood means they finally achieved their American dream. But one mistake turns this idea upside down.

This novel really dives into race relations, especially with the concept of the “model minority.” Instead of feeling a kinship with other minorities, Ashok and Priya, and several other characters in the novel, feel they are vastly different and they don’t want to be grouped altogether.

But once Ajay is arrested, everything they thought they knew changes.


A Great Country is a very well done novel that will certainly spark much discussion. I was engaged by this story and I’m so glad I picked it up. A fantastic book club read that will make you think about so much.

For book clubs, check out my book club discussion questions here.