Savages and Other Neighbors--

Daniels' 2017 Novel:

A Deceptively Light Style 

I’d like to share with you news of my novel

Savages and Other Neighbors

 (Writers Workshop India, 2017, 636 pp, $40),

which I started writing in 1983.

Author's Summary After his Indian-American father and his Dutch-American mother die in a Chicago convenience-store shootout in 1973, Solomon Jacob is torn between revenge and healing. Choosing the latter, he returns to his hometown, Riverside, Michigan, known to locals as  "God’s City by the River,” where someone is burning the houses of the poor. With Jennifer Vandenberg’s help, Solomon leads a homesteading program for people land speculators are pushing out. But when his grandparents arrive from Kerala, India, “all hell breaks loose” (Naomi Rose in the Foreword--see below) and he is caught in a journey into light and darkness in the American heartland.

Writers Workshop India Blurb "Michael Chacko Daniels’ magnum opus after a long career of 40 years of writing looks at tensions between immigrant communities in the United States through the eyes of a newly arrived Indian family. It is set in the 1970s, yet will resonate with contemporary experiences in, and of, the United States. The book is written in Daniels’ characteristically but deceptively light style, covering the racism and capitalism that have often threatened the humanism of America."


by Naomi Rose

An elderly couple from Kerala, India,

moves into a small town in Michigan, USA,

and all hell breaks loose.

Not because Grandma and Grandpa Jacob intend any harm—far from it.

She is a former teacher, a shaper of minds and hearts in her native country, a woman who delivers seasoned wisdom along with her famous cocoa cakes.

He is a robust and fervent preacher, used to delivering evangelical Christian sermons to save souls in India and fully prepared to do the same in Riverside City.

            But they look so…different.

Grandma Jacob—well, it’s not enough that she wears a sari; her earlobes are so elongated, they nearly touch her shoulders. The earlobes look—as Jennifer Vandenberg thinks in panic the first time she sets eyes on these “savages”—like “helpless, boneless wings.”

And Grandpa Jacob, who is big and black, is given to wearing draped white cloth.

Jennifer’s instant assessment of the couple as “savages”—a conclusion formed before she knows anything about them (including that they are the grandparents of Solomon Jacob, the young man who is the protagonist of Savages and Other Neighbors, and whom she adores to…well, a peculiar kind of distraction)—is amusingly, yet also chillingly, described by author Michael Daniels.

If assessments such as Jennifer’s were limited only to silent, private thoughts, then perhaps the lives of Grandma and Grandpa Jacob and their beloved grandson, Solomon, would have gone smoothly, their entrance into Riverside City producing in the community no more than a passing, initial sense of foreignness, to be replaced over time by a welcoming inclusion, even a recognition of their contributions to the community in the very diversity first considered so “savage” and strange.

            But thoughts have consequences.

Not only Jennifer’s, but also those of others far more in a position to enact their retributions on all three Jacobs for their (imagined) incursion on the (imagined) purity of the residents of the community whose way of living the Jacobs were presumed to be endangering simply by being who they were.

That, and the fact that Solomon was challenging the status quo by being a tireless crusader for refurbishing abandoned homes in the central city and making them into habitats for the poor; a position not endearing to the local realtor, city planner, preacher, and other powers-that-be, who favor gentrification.

Negative first thoughts—if not tempered by enough interest and compassion to be transformed into second thoughts, the kind that can see past surface impressions and glean a truer sense of the nature of the human beings behind their unusual appearances—can grow into evil actions, a conflagration of harm purposely inflicted on those whose difference is interpreted as a threat.

And so this book offers its readers a level of excitement that will, on one level, entertain, but on another spark sympathetic fear and open the hearts of those who are privileged to have a closer view.

For this closer view is a privileged view. We enter into the richly tapestried world that the author has created with complete access to the inner and outer lives of its main characters. Once you are close to someone—whether you love them right away (Grandma Jacob is easy to admire) or it takes some time (as with Grandpa Jacob’s penchant for pontification); or, over time, you learn to surrender your ideas about someone because their actions coming out of their self-inquiries are just so honorable (as with Solomon)—at some point they cease to be strangers and “savages” and become part of the human family, a necessary and even welcomed aspect of our own, enriched selves.

But for this to take place is a long journey, here. And you are about to take that ride.

~   ~   ~

So I would encourage you to settle in for the journey. Give yourself time to acquaint yourself with the world of this book.

Certainly, there is no lack of adventure, as Solomon’s knightly quest to save houses for the poor—as his late (most likely, murdered) doctor-parents saved lives; and as his fervent grandfather, tempered by the wisdom of his discerning and ecumenical grandmother (she prays not only to Jesus and Mother Mary, but also to Saraswati, Kali, and Ganesh), saves souls—finds its supporters, detractors, and even would-be terrorists.

And there is no lack of romance-and-its-obstacles: Who loves whom, and who doesn’t love whom, and why; Jennifer’s crush on Solomon, if only a certain part of his anatomy could be removed; Solomon’s lack of sexual interest in both males and females; the entrance on the scene of the redheaded Katerina, the “Neighborgirl” whom Grandma Jacob would be happy to have as a granddaughter-in-law.

And there is the language of the storytelling, its unique sounds and music. Here is just a taste:

[Katerina’s] heart filled out as her head hummed with the sound of the scythe, the buzz and whir of insects, the twittering, rattling, tchuring, and whistling of birds, and the familiar lone dog barking in the distance.


The man-boy inhaled audibly, stretched his arms back over his head, and formed a V with his body, buttocks tight; exhaling, he bent forward, head between arms, until palms touched toes and forehead rested against his knees.

[Katerina’s] eyes accompanied each of his movements, her heartbeat growing loud in her ears. Dear God! He was the embodiment of light, effortless being.

Finally, there is no lack of humor, some of it visible in the characters’ wry reflections and dialogue, and some of it broadly, flat-out funny. The incidents of mistaken identity alone, along with mistaken projections of motivations are just hilarious. The plotting of these cross-cuts, switchbacks, and other intricately piled-on misunderstandings dazzle the mind.

Yet when our laughter has come to its conclusion, we may begin to get the hint that projections, assumptions, stereotyping, and other ways that we all use to shortcut the requirement to really get to know another person—or social group, or inhabitants from a foreign land brought close to home—can create havoc with our own being, the projected-on person, and an entire community.

If we really want to get the hint and turn our projected “savages” into friends, we can also learn from this book even while we are entertained by it.

Although not put forth as a polemic, Savages and Other Neighbors has a worthy message. May we get it and live it. Enjoy the read, and the journey, ahead.

Naomi Rose

Oakland, California, USA


Savages and Other Neighbors

 Writers Workshop India, 2017, 636 pp, $40

ISBN: 978-93-5045-142-7 

Order your copy today from:

Writers Workshop India
162/92 Lake Gardens
Calcutta 700045

Contact Numbers: +91-33-24170763 and +91-33-24172683