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About The Book

A young academic moves from India to the United States, where she navigates first love, a green card marriage, single motherhood, and more in this “delightful novel, written with immediacy, warmth, and wry humor” (Ha Jin, National Book Award­–winning author of Waiting).

Vega Gopalan is adrift. Still reeling from the death of her sister years earlier, she leaves South India to attend graduate school at Columbia University. In New York, Vega straddles many different worlds, eventually moving in and out of a series of relationships that take her through the striving world of academia, the intellectual isolation of the immigrant suburbs, and, ultimately, the loneliness of single motherhood. But it is the birth of Vega’s daughter that forces the novel’s central question: What does it mean to make a home?

Written with dry humor and searing insight, Habitations is an “irresistible debut” (Deesha Philyaw, author of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) about identity, immigration, expectation, desire, and love lost and found. But it is also a universal story of womanhood, and the ways in which women are forced to navigate multiple loyalties: to family, to community, and to themselves.

A “sweeping, immersive, and utterly perfect” (Weike Wang, author of Chemistry) meditation on the many meanings of home and on the ways love and kinship can be found, even in the most unfamiliar of places, Habitations introduces Sheila Sundar as an electrifying new voice in literary fiction.

About The Author

Photograph by Claire Bangser

Sheila Sundar is a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Mississippi. Her writing has appeared in The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Massachusetts ReviewThe Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and their three children. Habitations is her debut novel.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 2, 2024)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781668016121

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Raves and Reviews

“In Habitations, Sheila Sundar crafts a coming-of-age story that explores our concepts of home, sexuality, and identity…. Through Vega, Sundar zeroes in on what it takes for a woman to create her path, while telling the story of an Indian immigrant jostling with caste, a human exploring her sexuality, and a student managing sociology coursework as her view of the world starts to blossom.”—Vanity Fair

“Impressive… The book draws the reader in like a good long conversation with a best friend about all the things that matter.”—The Advocate

“Sheila Sundar’s irresistible debut is a provocative meditation on grief, desire, and the unexpected ways the two entangle. Brimming with emotional intricacies, crisp prose, and sly humor, HABITATIONS traverses the complicated, intimate politics and promises of the places we seek to call “home.’”—DEESHA PHILYAW, author of National Book Award Finalist The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

“Habitations is a delightful novel, written with immediacy, warmth, and wry humor. Covering dramas both personal and universal, Sundar offers insightful reflections on the desire for arrival and the longing for return. This is a significant addition to migrant fiction.”—HA JIN, author of National Book Award winner Waiting

“A striking reflection on migration, family, loss and home, and a vital portrait of race in American academia. Through sharp, up-close narration, we share Vega Gopalan's piercing observations about the world that surrounds her, and the friends, loves, and city-dwelling strangers that come to shape her life as she tries to find her place in it.”—MECCA JAMILAH SULLIVAN, author of Big Girl

“Masterful storytelling. A sweeping, immersive and utterly perfect debut of a new talent and a fresh perspective on the Indian diaspora. In its multilayered, nuanced way, this novel will teach you about the strength of family, the force of love, the power of hope and the resilience of spirit. In other words, HABITATIONS will take you fearlessly by the hand and remind you of the purpose of living.”—WEIKE WANG, author of Chemistry and Joan is Okay

“Sundar’s debut novel is a wondrous mix of quiet heartache and unexpected hope, making it the best kind of literary fiction.… Sundar’s focus on the evolution of Vega’s inner and outer lives through relationships brings a vitally important lens to the thematic preoccupations of roots, home, migrant identity, and motherhood. The crisp plot and uncluttered writing make Habitations a remarkable first novel.”—Booklist

“Sundar debuts with an earnest meditation on an Indian American graduate student’s grief, loneliness, and longing… a fresh perspective on the pressures of motherhood and desire for self-fulfillment… This leaves readers with much to chew on.” –Publisher's Weekly

“A debut novel that explores the contours of grief and globalization with conviction…. The story unfolds episodically, in a good way; in Sundar’s hands, the scenes tumble together hypnotically. The book captures a moment in time—before smartphones and social media as we know them today—among a particular set of people who cross international borders for higher education and enticing opportunities. The catch is that their lives can be as circumscribed by capricious visa policies and systemic prejudices as by any personal limitations. This yields a sense of transience; Sundar captures the cascades of smaller griefs as Vega and the people in her universe develop close ties when they overlap in cities and on campuses, then move on for coursework, jobs, fellowships, and family.”—Kirkus

“There are many reasons to love this novel. Vega’s journey will resonate in one way or another with anyone who has suffered loss or struggled with self-doubt. Sundar’s supporting characters and rich depiction of immigrant life round out Vega’s story, no doubt drawing on the author’s own experience growing up in the ’90s as the child of Indian immigrants to the U.S. Best of all, the novel speaks to the human experience of how the burdens we carry even­tually come to define our strengths. Insightful and hopeful, Habitations delivers on all fronts.”—BookPage

“HABITATIONS will stun you. This debut maps, with deep artistry and sensitivity, the interior terrain of a brilliant scholar, an immigrant who carries the childhood loss of her beloved sister no matter where she goes. The story's attention to the small details of itinerant lives reminded me of Gurnah's beautiful GRAVEL HEART. In Vega, Sheila Sundar has rendered a character of remarkable subtlety, one who bristles with intelligence and life as she seeks new homes among an international community of travelers many of us will recognize. As these friends throw their doors open to Vega, you will want to do the same.”—V. V. GANESHANANTHAN, author of Love Marriage and Brotherless Night

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