It’s been a few years since the phrase “good talk” entered the global lexicon — it’s an Americanism that, perhaps, was born out of a need to elaborate on “okay” or “hmm” at the end of conversations with something affirmative and wholly unnecessary. It’s also the little cheeky, self-aware title of Indian-American writer Mira Jacob’s second book, a mixed-media graphic memoir of growing up in the US as a second-generation immigrant, always standing out and never quite fitting in.
Good Talk first made an appearance in a 2015 Buzzfeed article titled “37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son”, which talks about how her six-year-old boy is obsessed with Michael Jackson. It’s a terrific beginning to a conversation about race in America — Jackson’s changing skin tone is a site of confusion for her child; if the King of Pop could switch from black to white, then surely it was possible for him to go from brown to a lighter colour. Jacob must now embark on a difficult conversation with her child about what it means to be a person of colour (PoC) in the US, the land of the free (if you were white), and the home of the brave (if you were any other shade). She does so by tracing her journey as one of seven Indian students in her New Mexico high school; dating in college; being a PoC in the wake of 9/11; well-intentioned advice given to her to steer away from “ethnic writing”; watching Barack Obama take office from 2008-2016, and reeling under the barrage of unapologetic bigotry, racism and sexism unleashed since Donald Trump became the 45th American President in 2017.
Jacob has crafted Good Talk from the conversations she’s had with friends, family, lovers, strangers and now her son, over the years. With its collage of newspaper articles, original as well as stock photos, maps, flyers in the background and cutouts of characters, it looks and reads like an intimate and breezy scrapbook. However, this form ceases to be visually arresting after a while; a majority of the book’s 368 pages start to look the same. Textually, Jacob is careful to not to shove opinions down her reader’s throats but several of these conversations flit too quickly between the pages and take off in multiple directions. Not every chapter sticks the landing, too.
While Good Talk succeeds in mapping out the cycle of belonging and unbelonging that is constantly explored in immigrant and diasporic narratives, often it feels too self-reflexive and submerged in its inner conflicts to offer a glimpse at a larger picture. However, there is no doubt that Jacob’s memoir will resonate with Indian-Americans and other PoCs in America: the once-hallowed American Dream is crumbling at the edges, and the idea of what it means to be an American is getting blurry by the day.