I have just returned from a lovely visit to Yale University where I visiting Professor Leah Mirakhor’s writing class and then did a reading and talk at Ezra Stiles College. (At Ezra Stiles, I read from Immigrant, Montana and collected some valuable merch. An Ezra Stiles woolen scarf and thermos. Thank you for the opportunity, Professors Stephen Pitti and Alicia Camacho-Schmidt.) One of the things I talked about with Professor Mirakhor’s class was an essay of mine called “Flight.” It demonstrates the often-quoted axiom of John Berger’s: “Never again shall a single story be told as though it were the only one.” In other words, the truth of juxtaposition. In that essay, written in the days immediately after the attacks of 9/11, I put beside the story of the hijacker the shadowy figure of the stowaway in order to tell a different tale about the tragedy of the world.
(Also cool to have the wonderful Kate Walbert reviewed on the same page.)
It was an honor to deliver the 2018 Vassar College Convocation Address on September 12. A preview was offered here. I love in particular the beautiful and historic chapel on campus. Photos by Karl Rabe.
In other news, the audio reading I did of Immigrant, Montana has received a wonderful review here:
For Canada’s Sharp Magazine, I wrote a little piece about my most prized possession: my mother’s prayer beads.
My father opened my mother’s closet and laid out all its contents on the bed: beautiful silk saris, a couple of woollen coats, sweaters, small pieces of jewellery, a few gold coins. This was just hours after we had cremated her on the banks of the Ganges, near Patna in eastern India.
My sisters were to divide the saris among themselves and close relatives. That is what my father proposed. He mentioned the names of our aunts and a cousin who was sitting in the next room. The idea was a good one, but our grief was too raw, and my sisters protested by bursting into tears.
The previous night, I had arrived from New York — a 15-hour direct flight to Delhi and then another, just over an hour long, to Patna. I watched in silence as my father turned his attention to the smaller items, the objects that, unlike the saris, didn’t carry the smell of the perfume my mother used.
The grandchildren were to share the gold coins. I took two for my kids, whom I had left behind in Poughkeepsie. There were a couple of silver coins on the bed. One of them had the words “Edward VII King & Emperor” embossed around the head of the bald, bearded sovereign. Had an old woman in my father’s village given this coin to my mother when she had arrived as a bride?
I accepted unquestioningly the fine-looking sari that my father chose for my wife. Did I want anything from the items of jewellery? I shook my head to say no, but then I picked up a necklace of prayer beads that I had seen my mother wearing. This crystal necklace didn’t look expensive and was light enough not to add to the burden of my sorrow. Take it, take it, my father said.
<Writer’s voice> I did the audio version of my novel. Here’s a brief, four-minute interview for Penguin Random House Audio about the experience. Who would be my dream narrator? (I chose writers, not actors.) Which word from my novel was I unable to pronounce? (It was an adjective, describing a woman’s smile.) What did the whole exercise feel like? Please give it a listen if you like audio books.
In the pages of the latest New Yorker, Joanna Biggs has a lovely, absorbing review of Immigrant, Montana.
The new book falls between genres. Its aim is not to tell a story, exactly, but to create a portrait of a mind moving uneasily between a new, chosen culture and the one left behind. Kailash’s journey toward sexual integration in the West is cast (to quote the author’s note) as “a work of fiction as well as nonfiction, an in-between novel by an in-between writer,” complete with multiple epigraphs, pictures, footnotes academic and digressive, and both pop-cultural and literary-theoretical references.
Thanks to Jane Ciabattari, I recommend five books on love for Book Marks over at Lithub.