The Chandaria family—emigrants from the Indian-enclave of Nairobi—have managed to flourish in America. Premchand, the father, is a doctor who has worked doggedly to grow his practice and give his family security; his wife, Urmila, runs a business importing artisanal Kenyan crafts; and their son, Sunil, after quitting the pre-med track, has gotten accepted to a PhD program in philosophy at Harvard. But the parents have kept a very important secret from Sunil: his cousin, Bimal, is actually his older brother. And when this previously hidden history is revealed by an unforeseen accident, and the entire family is forced to return to Nairobi, Sunil reveals his own well-kept, explosive secret: his Jewish-American girlfriend, who has accompanied him to Kenya, is, in fact, already his wife. Spanning four generations and three continents, The Limits of the World illuminates the vast mosaic of cultural divisions and ethical considerations that shape the ways in which we judge one another’s actions. A dazzling debut novel—written with rare empathy and insight—it is a powerful depiction of how we prevent ourselves, unwittingly and otherwise, from understanding the people we are closest to.
The Limits of the World was a 2020 Massachusetts Book Award Finalist
Watch a short video on the book’s origins
“Evocative and profound, The Limits of the World is an intimate novel about family that is, at the same time, an illumination of miscommunication across cultures, an exploration of the legacy of migration in both Africa and the United States, and a philosophical rumination on ethical behaviors. Jennifer Acker’s is a wise and honest literary voice.”
—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl
“This intricately woven family saga… [is] narrated in solemn tones and strung with moments of startling beauty….a sweeping mosaic of immigration and family-making.”
—John Freeman, LitHub
“The Limits of the World is the most masterful debut novel I have read in years. It’s a rivetingly written evocation of the world of East African Indians, who are at home everywhere and nowhere. It shows the complicated ways in which family splits and regathers. And in beautiful, understated prose, it empathetically explores the misunderstandings between cultures: Indian, African, American. The book also demonstrates that a truly gifted writer like Jennifer Acker can inhabit lives of any color, any gender, and make us care about them as if they were our own. In this wise, loving book I saw my mother’s family, exiled from Nairobi; I saw me.”
—Suketu Mehta, author of This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto
“Such a smart, compassionate and elegant novel deeply invested in morality and the subtleties of families, cultures, and continents, that it is thrilling and delicious that this is Jennifer Acker’s debut.”
—Lauren Groff, author of Florida
“The Limits of the World is a riveting and nuanced study of how we belong—to a lover, a family, a country. The prose is beautiful, the story is refreshingly original, and the characters are achingly human. The novel announces Acker as a writer of deep feeling and intelligence, a formidable writer whose talent is limitless.”
—Bret Anthony Johnston, author of Remember Me Like This
“No one asks about marriage if they don’t want the answer to be yes.”—Read the full excerpt at Boston Review.
He had an American girlfriend now, too, and Urmila did not want to encourage things. Her visit would be an endorsement. Best to ignore the girl and let it pass. —Read full excerpt at Lit Hub.
Every night, under open sky, lions invaded their camps. Lions with an appetite for human flesh prowled around the Commiphora with snapping jaws and vicious claws. —Read full excerpt at Amherst Reads
The KauffÂmans liked Sunilâ—âAriel affecÂtionÂateÂly called him â“duckÂling” because of his boyÂish face and out-turned toesâ—âbut he wasn’t a Jew, and they were skepÂtiÂcal of his moral comÂpass.—Read full excerpt at the Jewish Book Council
Here it was. The white person’s arrogant insistence on knowing not who or where but simply what, as if he were a mineral or some other piece of ground. —Read full excerpt at Terrain