Friends, I have the great pleasure of inviting you to the Book Launch of Love’s Garden, October 27, 2020, 7-8 pm, at Brazos Bookstore, Houston. That day Love’s Garden is also available in bookstores and on Amazon.com.
Freebie and Bonus: The fantastic Indira Ganesan, author of three fabulous novels, will be in conversation with me afer the reading.
When Harmange, a French writer and aspiring novelist, published Moi les hommes, je les deteste, a threat by a government official to take legal action to ban Moi les hommes, je les déteste (I Hate Men) made it a sellout. And readers quickly snapped up the first 450-copy print run, as also the following two reprints. Now 2,500 copies.
What do you think? For instance, do think Pauline Harmange has the right to write about what she feels? And do you think that what she’s actually saying is that she hates male domination, patriarchy, the undying brotherhood, call it what you will? Do you think the French government has a modicum of a right to crack down on her — or on anyone — because of that?
The publisher, Monstrograph, described as a “micropublishing house” run by volunteers, is overwhelmed. Now they say they will not reprint I Hate Men again unless a bigger publisher comes to the rescue.
The Guardian also notes that ‘The book cites statistics from 2018 showing that 96% of people convicted of domestic violence were men.’ And 99% of those convicted of sexual violence were men. “Whereas misandry has never killed anyone,” Harmange writes.
But Harmand is happily married. To a MAN.
Well folks, I think it’s about time we started having the conversation, at least. Because, as Harmange writes, ‘Misandry exists only as a reaction to misogyny, which is at the root of systemic violence.’
Hey, what if Harmange is really talking about misogyny, systemic sexism and sexual violence, really? And not about individuals?
Let’s talk about this and make our own decisions, cogently, logically and respectfully. But let’s DETEST the French government official who had the arrogance and audacity to think he could muzzle the conversation altogether.
I would be delighted to know that you could read it for freeand liked it and if so, reviewed or rated it on the site itself.
I write to invite you again, dear friends and readers, to read my novel Love’s Garden for free, in the next one and a half months, courtesy my excellent publisher Aubade Publishing, and NetGalley. But don’t wait, because in another 90 days the link will not work anymore.
And if you are walking, cooking, or looking out the window while nursing a hot, sweet cup of coffee, please check out my recent interview, podcast by the nonpareil Ridge Cresswell, audiobook narrator extraordinaire (you’ll see, or rather hear, if you haven’t already).
If I sound delighted and giddy, it’s because I was. We had a great conversation. Ridge and Treena (Thibodeau), who run The Great Indoors Reading Series most every Friday, are good friends, and Treena is an amazing writer.
Do you want to support the Arts and artists? Do you want to hear great new writing by established and emerging writers? You can join TGI most Fridays at
Meeting ID: 728 9321 2031 One tap mobile +13126266799,,72893212031# US (Chicago) +19292056099,,72893212031# US (New York)
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It was a while ago. I was just starting to write my novel, Love’s Garden. In 2004, two years after the Godhra, Gujarat Massacre.
She’s written so much more since then. So beautifully, defiantly, forcefully.
And recently I’ve been teaching, reading and thinking about another phenomenal Indian writer’s work: Megha Majumdar’s A Burning. That’s how I came again upon this talk Roy gave in 2004, at Aligarh Muslim University.
I’m sharing it. Because every word in it is true and every concern has become more critical in India today. Megha Majumdar’s A Burning is further proof of that if any were needed. For instance, Roy wrote two years after the genocidal massacre of Muslims in Godhra, Gujarat: “The targets of the dual assault of communal fascism and neo-liberalism are the poor and the minority communities (who, as time goes by are gradually being impoverished.) As neoliberalism drives its wedge between the rich and the poor, between India Shining and India, it becomes increasingly absurd for any mainstream political party to pretend to represent the interests of both the rich and the poor, because the interests of one can only be represented at the cost of the other.”
Sounds familiar? Sounds true? Like what she says in the video below?
Yesterday I invited you to read and review my debut novel Love’s Garden for free on NetGalley at
Life is nothing but a Story of Journeys. And Stories are Journeys in visiting Lives like ours and not like ours. Understand — in Megha Majumdar’s A Burning the choice of ‘pidgin’ as the denigrated register in which English is spoken, thought and dreamed among the poor and the dispossessed in India is not cutesy ‘verisimilitude.’ Rather, it’s a weapon called language — that arises from chasms of despair we often skirt in our stories, journeys and lives — aimed at obscene sign-boards that say “India is Shining.”
Angry Young White Man — he lives in a malignant fantasy of lost spoils of the once great white race — in my presence, at this restaurant bar, exploded about something that had irked him that day and invoked the always convenient ‘damn f–king niggers.’ In my presence. Of course, my sad scaredy-cat behind froze. Next, would he shoot me? Maybe throw a really smoldering fry at me? He’d come in loud and aggrieved and had started bombasting quite early on. Was he already high? I didn’t know. He looked unimaginably callow, frail. Did he say those things because he saw a solitary woman of color at the bar and that switched something on?
But he was there with his mother. And he’d said that to his mother.
I’m a mother of a confused young man. After my initial freeze started thawing some, I felt an infinite sadness for this young man stirred into my pathetic scaredy-cat-ness. (Trying to to be completely self-aware, completely honest here, for the sake of my own soul and not for anyone else I can pretend to save or rescue). Because his mother and the bart — a thirty-something white woman — both shushed him and lit into him. And then he argued with them, tried to justify himself, asked what was so wrong with what he’d said about Race in America, tried to hit on the bart (so many demons to fight!). . . .
But then he just lost air. Utterly. Offered to buy me a drink. Warned me about having too many drinks. Said the police would be pretty merciless with me if they found me driving drunk. I think he was trying to make it right. I do think that.
But what if his mother hadn’t been there and the bart lady hadn’t shushed him?
And yet, I, the mother of a mixed-race American teenager, feel stricken, partly for him? Why? Why don’t I just curse this unrealized twerp to hell? Why don’t I hate him? Because I parent a teen male who can equally trash talk, if about less heinous, more merely obstreperous, topics? Because male rage and white rage are equally ubiquitous and equally painful to watch? Because this white boy’s soft-eyed white mother’s shame and rage made me focus on her pain as much as on my near-disbelief that I was, finally, facing, about two feet away from me that much-talked-about, much-dreaded white male rage? Because when I left the mother was staring down at the counter, her face a study of a Madonna, and the son, actually cowed, was trying to jive her back into acknowledging him?
Or, because the effing POTUS has screwed this boy over by promising him both a past of imagined suffering at the hands of minorities, and a future of ecstatic revenge over those minorities, especially those ‘damn f–king niggers’?
Is this boy the problem for political blackness and for all people of color, or is he a pawn? Am I too soft on his blind white, inarticulate male rage and defeated desire for a harmony that he can neither define nor achieve except at the cost of following — blinded, staggering — a great white father who’s shamelessly sold his own and his sons’ souls to other devils, and finally falling face down into whatever swamp history dug for him a long time ago?
Where do you think this happened? In which American city?
Readers, I’d love to have you write in your guesses. And do you know why I’d especially like that? It’s because I’d like hard, clear light trained on my own ignorance and blind spots about Race in America. Because during the early part of this emotional crossfire I was silently gnashing my teeth, thinking ‘look at how degenerate the people of this so-called convivial and loose-jointed state are,’ and was feeling mildly better after wriggling myself into that self-positioning of immunity from these ‘degenerate people’ (even though I live in Texas, a whole other emotional crossfire scenario), when I overheard that mother and son were actually former Texans from Odessa (remember ‘No Country for Old Men’? or, really, anyone other than rich white men?).
Imagine my confusion! So NOW who was I going to blame, despise? Here, where former Texans are washed ashore no doubt as battered detritus of the tsunami called the oil industry; where I have seen in the ghostly night-time heart of the city the ‘watering hole’ called SpoonBill Conoco, of course white male rage was bubbling, bobbing up to the murky water’s surface only as much as anywhere else in America. No more, no less.
So, where am I safe? And, why am I having to ask this question?
So, this is Spoonbill Conoco. It’s a restaurant in the city where my young angry white man lives. With his sad, downcast mother. Does Spoonbill Conoco, this ghostly, abandoned joy-dispenser and relic of the heydays of Oil, hold answers to what will keep me and other ‘damn f–king niggers’ safe from white boys who cave in when their white mothers push back? Or does it quite scarily presage the future of white angst trusting in mutant political ninja turtles, and in the false messiah called fossil fuel supremacy?
Or, is this the desolate tomorrow of a once boyscout-driven place that used to be called America?
We had a fabulous time last night at the Cambridge Writers Workshop Institute for International Education Benefit Reading facebook live event. Almost 1000 people viewed, and many donated. We would be grateful if you could still donate. I was once an International Student in this Nation of Immigrants and I’m sad that a Dude with orange hair is messing with all that.
Holding my first print copy of my debut novel. I never thought this would happen. So, thanks to all whom I acknowledge in the book and to all readers who would honor me by reading it.
It’s 1898. India is ruled by the British, and India’s women are ruled by British masters as well as Indian men. A desperate young widow makes an unspeakable sacrifice to save herself from ultimate dishonor. Though she marries a stranger for security and shelter, her damaged second family pays dearly for this Faustian bargain. Then, an extraordinary atonement, and strange liaisons in politics and love — spanning the two world wars and India’s independence movement — help her descendants heal from this traumatic private history. Love’s Garden demonstrates the strength, resilience, and spirit of mothers and daughters navigating layers of oppression, all while the sun not-so-peacefully sets on British India.
I’m an emerging debut novelist. If only my parents had been alive to read my novel, inspired so largely by stories they told me! So I’d be truly honored to know what you thought of my novel should you get a chance to read it. Do leave comments here or on Amazon.com!
The Rights of Minorities: ChagallPAC’s Fourth Friday Literary Salon Series and the Cambridge Writers Workshop Institute of International Education Benefit Reading goes live on Facebook on July 24, 2020 8:00pm-9:00pm at
Come for a literary salon of talk and performance of Historical Fiction,Forbidden Love, Family Saga, Romance, the Rights of Minorities, and other ways of polishing the jewel and savoring the tutti-frutti of literature and performance.
*****In light of recent pressures against allowing international students — futuremakers — to stay in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, CWW would like to emphasize their support of international connection and study.******
Organizers Diana Norma Szokolyai and Rita Banerjee say, “Many of our own writing retreats are held abroad, and since we have come to understand firsthand the importance of international exchange, we hope to show solidarity with international students during this time by directing resources and attention to IIE.”
“IIE’s mission is to help people and organizations leverage the power of international education to thrive in today’s interconnected world. We believe that when education transcends borders, it opens minds, enabling people to go beyond building connections to solving problems together. Our vision is a peaceful, equitable world enriched by the international exchange of ideas and greater understanding between people and cultures.” https://oneplanetonlyone.com/2020/06/16/au-autobiography-of-political-blackness-installment-1-whence/
IIE focuses on work that “advances scholarship, builds economies, and promotes access to opportunity.” They run over 200 programs for international students with more than 29,000 participants.
Here are the folks who will share their artforms against xenophobic mentality:
Stephen Aubrey is a Brooklyn-based writer and theater-maker. His fiction and essays have appeared in CRAFT Literary, Electric Literature, Publishing Genius, and The Brooklyn Review. As a co-founder and co-artistic director of The Assembly Theater Company, his plays have been produced at The New Ohio Theater, The Living Theater, The Ontological-Hysteric Theater, The Flea Theater, The Collapsable Hole, and Edinburgh Fringe Festival where his original play, We Can’t Reach You, Hartford, was nominated for the prestigious Fringe First Award. He is an instructor of English at Brooklyn College.
Nandini Bhattacharya was born and raised in India and has called the United States her second continent for the last thirty years. Wherever she has lived, she has generally turned to books for answers to life’s big and small questions. Her short stories have been published in Meat for Tea: the Valley Review, Storyscape Journal, Raising Mothers, The Bacon Review, The Bangalore Review, OyeDrum, and Ozone Park Journal. She has attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Workshop and held residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, VONA, and Craigardan Writers Residency (forthcoming). She was first runner-up for the Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction contest (2017-2018), a finalist for the Fourth River Folio Contest for Prose Prize (2018), long-listed for the Disquiet International Literary Prize (2019 and 2020), and a finalist for the Reynolds-Price International Women’s Literary Award (2019). Love’s Garden is her first novel. She is currently working on a second novel about love, racism, xenophobia and other mysteries, titled Homeland Blues. She lives outside Houston with her family and two marmalade cats. Visit her at
Elizabeth Devlin is a visual artist, poet, singer, and multi-instrumentalist. She is the curator of numerous art, music, and literary events including the series: The Highwaymen NYC, Prose By Any Other, and Token Folk Acoustic. As the Founding Director of Bessie’s, a private artist studio and salon, Devlin hosts art, community, literary and acoustic music events in Brooklyn. Devlin has toured nationally and internationally for over a decade. An autoharpist and singer-songwriter with avant-garde-folk sensibilities, she defies traditional song structures, weaving small worlds where magic and fantasies collide. Devlin’s third full-length album, Orchid Mantis, released in 2017, received 4.5/5 from Impose Magazine and is the follow-up to the previously released albums: For Whom the Angels Named, in 2011, Ladybug EP in 2011 and All Are Relative, in 2009. In 2020, Devlin will release her second EP, Conscientious Objector. Post-COVID, Devlin will continue to tour and will release her fourth full-length album, My Father’s Country.
Heather Thomas Loepp is pursuing an MFA in creative writing; meddling with her favorites: poetry, hybrid and the lyric essay. She has worked previously as a journalist, writing profiles on local artists, events, and the music scene—writing songs long before poetry in bands since childhood. Her poetry explores Native American mixed-blood identity, the camaraderie that can be found in poverty, and intergenerational trauma with humor & tenderness. She is working on publishing her first book of poems, entitled If I Were an Unhooked Rabbit. Heather spends her free time cooking elaborate meals for no one in her tiny house in the woods, where the fear of being mauled by a neighborhood cougar is a daily concern. Please send help or dinner guests.
Diana Norma Szokolyai is the Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of Chagall Performance Art Collaborative. Her books are CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing, Parallel Sparrows, and Roses in the Snow. Her poetry manuscript, Milk & Water, was a finalist for Hunger Mountain’s 2020 May Day Mountain chapbook series. Her poetry was also shortlisted for the 2018 Bridport Prize and received honorable mention in the 87th Annual Writer’s Digest Competition. Her work has been published in MER VOX Quarterly, VIDA, Quail Bell Magazine, The Boston Globe, Luna Luna Magazine, and has been anthologized in Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring History, Teachers As Writers, and Die Morgendämmerung der Worte Moderner Poesie-Atlas der Roma und Sinti. Her poetry–music collaborations have hit the Creative Commons Hot 100 list and been featured on WFMU radio.
Nothing gives a writer more pleasure than to have another accomplished writer acknowledge their efforts. So, my sincerest thanks to Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee for writing about my debut novel, especially heartwarming coming from a fellow Indian and creative intellectual.
This is the age of beating one’s own drum on social media. So it is balm to one’s fingers and one’s creative spirit when friends speak of your work instead.
What we are facing here is something unprecedented. This is a very serious health crisis. Pandemics and health crises of this nature are as old as humanity… But with COVID, this pandemic stems from humanity’s deteriorating relationship with nature. We have reduced dramatically the earth’s biodiversity. What is completely new today is that humanity has become a geological force unto itself.
Have you noticed the recent ballooning and shrinking of your time, which makes you not know what day or even, sometimes, what TIME it is?
You are not alone. (Though you may be, because of COVID lockdown.)
That’s why I’m sharing with you a relevant article from FORTUNE magazine. You’ll have to register for free to read this, but it may be well worth your TIME. And in any case, what else is there to do with all this TIME? Do it any TIME. You’ve got plenty. Below is a little taste of how insightful Hartog is in reminding us that pandemics of all times are not only medical, but technological and political: “Politics these days is nothing if not presentist. Trump is the best example of this, and his Tweets are the best signal of that. He represents the zero-degree of politics. The nature of Twitter is to put you in a loop —someone says something, you reply, and then a few minutes later, it has lost all its meaning. And now all politicians are using Twitter for their communications. And that can distort not only the present, but the instant —particularly, if in the very next instant, the message is totally different. In that case, you are no longer obliged to remember what was said just three minutes earlier. In this kind of politics, it’s all about, first, reaction, and then emotion. And, of course, you have no space for any kind of reflection or analysis. You cannot take any distance to assess. You have to be on the spot, every minute.”
Is COVID the end of TIME? Or is it nudging us that it’s TIME to do something about acting like we have all the TIME in the world for everything and neither past nor future matter, just the HERE and NOW. TAKE YOUR TIME, think about it, and join the conversation…..
“nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future“
Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp
I am thinking (or trying to think) about what COVID-19 is doing to us. To me.
I think COVID-19 might be the definition of the wild wilderness of the planet. And insofar as it is that, it’s a timely and terrific message from the universe(s).
COVID-19 is the wildness of the planet because it demonstrates a truth already well-worn for some of us: Nothing is guaranteed to us. We are owed nothing. We learn to sustain ourselves by sustaining ourselves, no matter what.
And ‘self-sustaining’ is, incidentally, the connotation of the word for ‘wild’ in Chinese. Which means, that life — that it even exists, that we are even alive at all — is, in the end, kind of ‘wild.’
And COVID-19 is also the wilderness of the planet because the wilderness is, according to Jon Krakauer who wrote INTO THE WILD that which sustains our spirit to survive. Because, as McCandless wrote to a friend, ‘nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future,’ a dictum whereby of course he lived and died as describe in Jon Krakauer’s book about him (INTO THE WILD).
Among friends we talk now about how, because of COVID-19, the future seems indefinitely uncertain (one of them said to me, ‘I hate 2020’). We talk about how we can make no plans, with nothing called certainty.
We are to be forgiven for wanting to make plans. For wanting a secure future. But maybe in the age of COVID-19 we are also forced to at least pause to think about McCandless’ words: ‘nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.’
Maybe we are to be forgiven for forgetting that believing that the future is secure no matter what we do to the wild and the wilderness, that we are owed everything we demand, that life is a given and not a creation, that accident and randomness with a purpose are the operative truths of our existence, is responsible for COVID and the other spectres that stalk the planet and our so-called assured myths of progress.
But maybe we cannot be forgiven if we don’t, at last, admit that we forgot. And if we don’t, at last, remember that life is a wild wilderness, and every other else is hokum and koolaid. And maybe we can, after hating 2020, thank COVID-19 a little for jolting us out of our complacency. And for giving us a well-deserved kick in the pants in the direction of the wildness of the wilderness, where, to survive, we must learn to be sustainable while not taking this grand planet and its self-sustaining but sensitive ecosystem for granted.
Ben Lerner’s The Tople School makes you despair a little about parenting. You wonder if anyone can ever get it quite right, if you can ever satisfiedly pat yourself on the back and say, “Well done, old gal!” The answer is NO because — according to The Topeka School at least, I think — because you CAN’T get it right. Why?
Because Daddy. Yes, I get that very strongly from this novel about “the lost boys of privilege” — as most of the younger characters and one protagonist in the novel are called — are criss-crossed, hardwired and haunted by the fantastic presence of impossible Great Fathers and the Janus-faced Law of that Father. In the lower ranks, down the lines of generations of fathers and sons, there is of course constant ongoing insurgency by sons — especially psychologists — who push their faces into their fathers’ and then become versions of those fathers.
Very nice. Very Freudian. Mothers are there too, but no similar distant ancient matriarchal lineage extending back to history’s vanishing point. Though there are disturbing allusions to the Great Father intruding upon the innermost, verboten recesses of the novel’s women characters as well.
Still, in spite of Daddy, if there is any comfort in a book about how generations of always slightly betrayed men and women try and try and try and only barely break through to understanding their children, leave alone helping or rescuing them, it is in the undergirding theme that while some things do go very wrong — and usually in these cases the real reasons are damaged cross-wiring of class, race, mental health, etc., as well — mostly kids do figure it out, do keep working things through, despite some concussions and lots of scars. As my best friend likes to put it, in the end “nobody dies.”
As the single mother of an eighteen-year-old American boy, I’m going with that.
Go read Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School about pschyanalsysts and parents re-framing and re-staging their own catharses in their young ones. For its magical use of language as a code to decrypt the true nature of power and negotiation in a Hobbesian patriarchy where life threatens always to be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” but for the equally disturbing, always looming shadow of the Great Father; for its delicious snaps at history and politics and the history of politics; for its recognition that the remembrance of times past is also the sociology of memory; for its insane insight into the hurbis and good intentions of Lacanian psychology trying to overthrow the tyranny of the Great Father Freud;and for its compassion for “lost boys” and their lost parents.
I am happy to say that any day, any hour, any second now, Love’s Garden will turn from an e-document into a paperback book! So yes, folks, printing and distribution are imminent! Soon Love’s Garden will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and elsewhere. I’ll make sure and share updates with you. It’s been a wait, but it’s the marathon that counts, not the sprint….
MEANWHILE, IT IS AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER AT AUBADE PUBLISHING, WITH FREE SHIPPING IF YOU USE THE CODE ‘PREMLATA’
AND here’s a little excerpt for your entertainment:
“In the year 1898, in a corner of Britain’s far-flung empire where the imperial sun is still rampant, a train snakes through a vast plain checkered by bronze, green and ochre fields of wheat, corn and millet. A woman stumbles through the train, passing compartments, peering into some, trying to reach the engine at the front. Her name is Saroj and she wants to stop the train. Stop the train. Get off.
How can this be happening? Why hasn’t Munia come? She promised she would come, without fail. Munia knows the stakes. She swore on her honor and her love.
People are sleeping — seated, slumped, stretched out — some with their entire bodies and heads covered with makeshift sheets, others in ugly positions that bring no shame only to the utterly oblivious. The train is completely dark. Here and there Saroj hears a moan, a whimper, even a low droning. Is that an infant crying, though? Saroj freezes for a long second. No, it’s a little girl who has fallen off a bunk. She is lying sprawled on the dirty floor, sobbing, as if getting up without her mother’s remorseful help is out of the question. Saroj can’t wait, can’t stop, can’t step into the compartment and help her up. No time to lose. Saroj lurches on, forward.
The engine shrieks — again and again — as it shreds the night. Saroj begins to think she will not be able to reach that engine compartment where the driver and the stoker are busy urging on the machine like a trained beast. Her legs are giving way. The spirit billows out of her, like smoke from an extinguished fire. All is burning. All has burned.
She should have burned too. It was her fate. But she erred. She sinned. Had she sinned? Had she erred? The old agony of that dilemma stops her as if someone has just punched her in the gut. She doesn’t even try to break her fall to the floor.
On the gritty floor of the snaking train taking her away from everything she has ever known or loved, Saroj dies that night, inside.”
By the way, here’s a little interview I recently gave my friend Scott Coon
The Little Creative Interview With Dr. Nandini Bhattacharya
Today I start a new series of posts: An Autobiography of Political Blackness. This series will be about my connection as a South Asian-American to Political Blackness, a term now in use to describe solidarity across races. Once this was called the Rainbow Coalition. Never mind. These are darker times.
WHENCE my political blackness? What is my history? I grew up female in India seeing fairer-skinned girl cousins favored and showcased; fairer-skinned girls put forth and praised; fair skin fetching higher values in marriage marts; no dark-skinned actors or actresses in the most powerful dream machine called movies; gods and goddesses in bazaar calendars and framed pictures at home glowing with the hot ghee tint; and of course the ubiquitous “FAIR AND LOVELY” skin-lightening cream, the brown girl’s nightmare and nemesis now proven to contain toxic ingredients.
Untouchability equated with dark sin. Poverty equated with dark skin. Insignificance and degeneration associated with dark skin. Africans? Though India’s direct contact with African peoples goes as far back as the 6th century AD at least, Africans in our cities seen as monsters, sub-humans, idiots and barbaric. Called “Habshi Khojas” (for “Abyssinian Eunuch,” a distortion of the name for a tiny demographic in pre-modern Islamic courts with defined and respected social functions). African students in India bullied, lynched, spat on.
THENCE Political Blackness in my life time as a girl growing up in India, compelled to chant and try to believe palliatives like “Kaalo Jagater Alo, Shada Jagater Gaadha.” In Bengali, ‘Dark skin lights you the world, White Skin is for dumb beauty.’ Little known, sparsely used, and of small comfort.
As this panorama rolls before my mind’s eye now I try to put some of this shady history into the second novel I’m now writing, titled Homeland Blues. It’s the partly true story of a South Asian woman in the US forced to face her internalized racism when her husband’s unexplained disappearance and presumed death test her Indian-American or ‘Desi’ community’s loyalty as she begins her descent into the hell known as illegal immigrant status in the United States. She’s thereby ejected overnight from diasporic ‘model minority’ privilege and colorism into radicalized kinship with a bisexual African-American man as well as immigrants facing deportation in Trump’s America. As the story progresses, it also reveals itself as one about the atrocious, systemic inequality experienced by India’s Untouchables or ‘Dalits,’ and People of Color in America. Ultimately, it’s about multi-tentacled hatred and fear surrounding gender and racial traumas, but also about the love we must find to empathize with the stranger we’ve always been taught to fear. It is stunning, especially to me, to see how my novel about the self-evident causes of solidarity between India’s Untouchables and America’s POC — started four years ago —reads now like a script for what we are calling Political Blackness today. Wish me well with it, please.
Power eats up the souls and bodies of the powerless and spits the gristle out one corner of its mouth. Power never apologizes. Power doesn’t stop. Power doesn’t feel shame. Power never abdicates.
More information and perspectives are gushing forth regarding the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput, an excellent, aspiring Bollywood actor who’s said to have privately pleaded for support saying he had “no godfather” in Bollywood. That would mean the powers-that-be, the gods of Bollywood, treated him and — I think it’s fair to say this — killed hm ‘for their sport.‘ (I want some day to write a screenplay about how no one really knows who William Shakespeare was because he was a woman.)
I return to this topic today to add a few thoughts. First, though, as a parent, I can(not) fathom the family’s grief and sincerely beg their pardon for adding to the cyber-storm about their son’s death. But my thoughts today are about mental health and its stigma in India and elsewhere. They are also about the interesting intersections of gender, class, ethnicity, power and wellbeing in India and elsewhere.
Is there something unique about this suicide? I’d say there is. A man in the public eye — young, goodlokking, talented, promising — gave into impossible odds of unequal power. Had this been a woman otherwise similarly situated, there would have been strong reaction to that as well, but the gender of the vanquished sharpens the point of a conversation that tends to be seen within “feminized” parameters. How many female Bollywood stars have been destroyed by the powers-that-be of that industry? And how many leading or otherwise influential men? The ratio is staggeringly unequal.
Which means that in part the maelstrom over Rajput’s death is not because of his gender but about his gender, a distinction with a not subtle difference. Women are generally considered weaker, more unstable, more destroyable. But when a man demonstrates such “womanly” weaknesses (and in this I’m led byt reports that people are minimizing the tragedy by calling Rajput “weak”), attention MUST fix on the fact that powers-that-be in Bollywood in his case acted so cruelly, so brazenly arrogantly and ruthlessly, that it led an unlikely candidate to the altar of self-destruction.
Will there be a film made one day about Sushant SIngh Rajput? Don’t know, but recall that stories and films abound about a comparable fate of a Parveen Babi, a Vimmy, a Sadhana (My god, Sadhana!), and others. Not to mention that actresses are figuratively ‘murdered’ or ‘commit suicide’ when they age and marry and leave their work.
Rajput’s tragic death must be seen in the context that in the fairly global fairy tale where power generally devours women and spits them out as gristle (remember Red Riding Hood’s Wolf?), a MAN has suffered that unlikely fate. A MAN has died a womanly death. Whether anyone says it out loud or not, that Rajput was a man, that he was upper-caste Hindu, that he was gorgeous, that he was talented, meant nothing because he had “no godfather.” Like women, who have only one kind, for which Rajput presumably didn’t qualify or apply. (BTW, some Hindutva loonies have swiftly recast Rajput’s story in anti-Muslim terms already; how creative people can be, and if only they. . . .!)
It’a a mad, mad mad world, and women, especially, know it. See Kangana Ranaut, who has sometimes been type-cast as that woman whom power destroyed, but not in this video: It’s in Hindi. but if you don’t understand it, you’ll catch the drfit…..
Talented thirty-four-year-old Hindi film actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, killed himself yesterday. Despair, it is said.
Beautiful, talented Bollywood star, Madhuri Dixit, sang a stirring song. Have hope, have hope, she said.
THANK YOU, MADHURI
What kind of hope and what kind of despair do we see around us?
Among my own family and friends circle, someone diagnosed with terminal cancer was turned away from hospitals because cancer is now second runner-up to COVID-19 as the Emperor of Maladies
A dear family member in India cannot pay for critical medication for chronic illness because the pandemic took her small business and turned it to dust
What kind of civilization is COVID-19 making us? What kind of people must we become? What kind of nations need we be?
When COVID-19 started spreading I noticed something I then jokingly called COVID NATIONALISM. Many people, identifying with a certain nation-state, were declaiming the virtues and values of their national customs, demographics, politicians and community spirit. As already happening at every crisis, Jingoistic Nationalism and Xenophobia were shaking bloodied hands over mass slaughter.
Someone wrote on a whatsapp group board I was then a member of that because “We, Indians” — they meant Hindus — have always been such “pure” people, washing their hands frequently, rinsing their mouths after meals, washing their feet after returning home from the ‘tainted’ outside, and observing myriad other taboos about purity and danger mostly involving denigrating and demonizing “Other People,” “We, Indians” would triumph over other countries and people that didn’t rinse, sprinkle, douse, purify and yes, of course, burn enough. Another member chimed in: vegetarians and those with other HIndutva-related food habits would survive COVID-19 while “Other People” would die.
I’ve left that group.
But what I don’t leave off is that we will only defeat COVID-19 if, among other things, we leave off COVID NATIONALISM. I know the tolls by countries have well-justified epidemiological purposes.But in these days of such despair, and yet such hope, we must learn to find in our hearts a new LOVE for those we’ve always been taught to hate and fear.
WE need to stop feeling secret relief because “We” are not “Them,” “Those people.” WE need to stop feeling secure and smug because we are not like “ethnic” people who hug and laugh and cry more, and live closer together in their habitats. WE need to stop shrugging off the news that mostly “those old people” or “those sick people” are dying. WE need to stop even secretly congratulating ourselves for not being poor, black, of color, Muslim, minority, sick, LGBTQ, old or dying.
WE need to look for the love we must find to empathize with the stranger we have been taught to hate and fear.
We need to be ANTINA: COVID ANTI-NATIONALISTS.
Pandemic doesn’t know national borders. VIRUS could care less about VIRTUE. Love, ALL
I try to share in it my few ideas and insights about the writing life and the marketing of your writing life. It is important for today’s writers, in this changing and sometimes bewildering publishing world, to think savvy about the writing after it’s done. I hope some of my ideas will be useful.
And don’t forget to check out Lost Helix, available at
If the legacy of a timeless cri-de-coeur out of the depths by women writers has seemed to become redundant in the last twenty-odd years of post-feminism, then Elizabeth Hazen’s poetry collection titled Girls Like Usis the aesthetic equivalent of pushing the finger back into the unhealed wound: the trauma of girlhood and womanhood in this society as in most others. Her poetry brings up into view what is so often swept under the carpet: a dystopic world still uniquely a part of women’s experience because of gender ideologies hardly as moribund as many young women today would like to believe. This is poetry in its best form: ineffable interrogator, ethicist and chronicler of human history.
Hazen, whose first book Chaos Theories was also published by Alan Squire Press in 2016, explores the clot of sexual trauma often connected to the wounds of addiction and mental health issues in young women and girls. In Girls Like Us Hazen doesn’t ‘unflinchingly’ approach these topics. She very much flinches, as a poet with an experiential dimension to her writing might or will. The pain is there on the surface ; the pain is in black and white ; the pain refuses to be swept under the carpet.
No one would doubt that Hazen came of age when women were re-launching (as women’s movements need to do again and again, there being no rest for the weary) the third wave of feminism in the face of the budding backlash that since then has become a slashing of women’s rights and freedoms. As testament to the timeliness and resonance of what she has to say, her poetry has appeared in Best American Poetry, American Literary Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School and other journals. In girls like us, the “self” exposed by a language apparently almost bleached of vibrancy swiftly establishes itself as the opposite of “singular.”
Hazen writes in “Why I Love Zombie Women”: “because her need/ is clear, uncomplicated. . . . because she doesn’t stop/ even after the hatchet hacks clean through/ her reaching arm; because she will pursue/ her prey till they have nothing left to chop/ Because when she lies in pieces, inside out/ she will not knew regret, or shame, or doubt”. And this, to compound the fun, is composed as a classic sonnet. Refreshing as Hazen’s wry and rueful engagement with rhymed verse always is, the hardihood she displays in this collection running words around the ring of their own formal antecedents and prohibitions — sonnets are about consuming love, aren’t they? — allows her to hold up the monstrous mirror in which patriarchal representations of femininity can see themselves refracted as who they are.
Still, in the slippage and space between real and representational, Hazen hangs out miracles and wonders like the Himatsu-Bako box whose “emptiness becomes its promise, vast as a blank page”. Also, perhaps the felicitous alignment of her insights with her expressions is rather like the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets who astonished the old world with unimagined similitudes and verisimilitudes plucked out of an unfolding natural world and Natural Philosophy aka Science. Thus, Hazen writes in “Alignment”: “Planets align from time to time, and much/ is made of the effects such cosmic chance/ could have on Earth, though in fact/. . . such coincidence can’t touch/ the craft of carpenters with their dovetail joints/. . . . /And what of the body? . . . . the problem is my lust’s incongruity with logic. . . ./ I want to rearrange my heart, to alter/the facts, selectively recall — I falter/ fall out of line, think only of his face”. While Hazen’s words do recall sexual trauma familiar to many ‘girls’ living under the ‘Law of the Father,’ it is this very incandescent precision of her language that allows Hazen to fashion with compassionate irony co-dependent worlds of desire and despair: “The moon’s pull is nothing compared to the weight/ of my body sinking into his bed again/ The acceleration of a falling object/ occurs at a constant rate, and repetition/ changes nothing unless conditions change”.
Arrangement of poems is an important thing in this volume; whereas sometimes the poems of Part 1 feel flatly accusatory — note how different is “Blackout is for girls like us/who can be rearranged” from the later poetry cited above — those later poems in Part 2 feel like meat on the bones of the longing to be whole and to heal, living outdoing the bruises of death and love, love of death, and death of love. In the 2nd Part the raw anguish of the hungover fall from grace in “Decisive. Indecisive. He decided” gives way to a wiry wisdom that finally sees that “We’ve been called so many things that we are not/ we startle at the sound of our own names”. Finally, lines of verse step out and push one hard in the chest, obliging exclamation, pause, reckoning, refamiliarization, resumption. Readers of Elizabeth Hazen can expect long years of magic as well as precision-tool craft with words.
Why do I love the work of Amitav Ghosh? Why have I always loved his work? Because when I first read his book In An Antique Land, I discovered what was possible in writing stories about the South Asian subcontinent, that antique yet living land. I learned that it was possible to write about India and its neighbors without writing in the style of epic magic realism, or poverty and gender oppression critique, or bleeding political satire (though all are highly estimable and powerful styles, of course). I discovered that it was possible to write about India as a place with history, not of timelessness. Because un-ascribing history to a world is the worst of what colonial and orientalist domination does to places like India and other postcolonial countries, Africa included. They take away a land’s history, which in the western mind is tantamount to its people being barbaric, even subhuman. That, among other reasons, is why I was blown away when I first read Ghosh, and why I’m getting blown away again by Gun Island.
One reason I blog is to suggest good books. I think Ghosh’s Gun Island is one of the best. It would be impossible to go into Ghosh’s layers and layers of erudition and uncovering of the complex connections between seemingly unrelated things (and this without resorting to postmodernism) without writing several books. But if I had to zero in on two things that make this novel inimitable, like most of Ghosh’s other novels, they would be the following.
First, it would be the idea of history as a haunting. Ghosh is a historian’s novelist, thrilling and stunning us not with linguistic flourishes but with discovering how language is the flourish that gives meaning to our lives. In other words, we are the stories we tell. And what this has to do with Ghosh’s longstanding concern with the environment and ecology is the core credo of this novel: Pay attention to climate and Nature because it might not be the first time that we humans are being warned about dangers lurking beneath the seemingly normal. Thus, a character in the novel, a historian of ideas, descants about the “Little Ice Age” of the seventeenth century when cataclysmic global events occurred — storms, fire, droughts, famines, disease, mass migrations — leading many a thinker and writer to speculate on whether the Earth, Mother Nature, was speaking to humans. And Ghosh leads us gently to the realization that indeed nature does speak to humans, and it is often in the language that we call myth. Without spoiling it, I urge reading Gun Island to realize that language and myth — often as folk tales and traditions — are shared inheritances of Humanity and the Natural World. In sum, what “the Little Ice Age” once suggested may be materializing in unimaginably larger ways in our own age.
The second, and related, key idea is that repetitions speak in the voices of our ghosts, be they ancestors or supernatural beings. And ghosts and supernatural beings repeat because they are failing to get our attention. Remember Hamlet’s ‘Ghost’? His father? The one who says “Remember!” Again and again? Why? So Hamlet won’t forget. It’s so easy to do. And what about us, readers of Gun Island? why should we pay attention when — like Hamlet’s dead father, ghosts and the supernatural (including the divine, like Bengal’s Manasa Devi or the Snake Goddess as in the novel) — keep showing up in our daily business-as-usual oblivion and unfilial unconcern for Nature? Because we forget, and because we do so at our peril.
As Ghosh’s charismatic Italian historian Cinta says to his protagonist Deen in Gun Island, “In the seventeenth century [the century of ‘the Little Ice Age,’ recall?] no one would ever have said of something that it was ‘just a story’ as we moderns do. At that time people were able to recognize that stories could tap into dimensions that were beyond the ordinary, beyond the human even. . . . It is only through stories that the Universe can speak to us, and if we don’t learn to listen. . . .”
If the Universe is full of stories and we don’t learn to listen, then Ma Manasa and radiant and vibrant matter (the things we’ve always called gods, parents) are speaking to us in vain. Deen thinks, “How can a translator do her job if one side chooses to ignore her?” And this is what I mean by the comment that repetitions speak in supra-human voices. To us, humans. Environmental catastrophe is a message in a bottle. It’s history repeating, but each time more feebly. When sea creatures are beaching and dying, species and humans are becoming refugees, forests are burning, storms are destroying, oceans are rising, crops are failing and strange viruses are prowling, it could be because humans are still not listening to ancestors.
And only last night I wrote about gender and the life-long flogging life as a woman can seem, even if you are not a person of color.
But where’s the time to stay on top of events in the United States of America? Especially when it is events related to racist hatred and murder? We’ve got a new one now. I beg your pardon; a new reported one today. Please watch.
My son’s father is black. My son doesn’t want to watch and discuss what’s happening sometimes. I used to get upset about that. It was in part a mother’s righteous upset. Don’t you want to know what can kill you for doing nothing? Don’t you want to help those who are like you, in this American nightmare that isn’t over after four centuries?
I’m beginning to understand, though. In part by connecting this to what I blogged yesterday about what a woman is thought to be for. Which is domination by anyone who calls themselves a ‘man.’ I am a woman. And if I began to hear and think about every time a woman is beaten, raped, tortured and killed, I couldn’t go out of my house any more.
Sometimes, even now, I almost can’t.
Wherever you are, and whoever you are, reading this, what are we going to do? What are we going to do when it looks like the ‘man’ who stands behind all this is probably going to get re-elected in November 2020?
I’ve read three recent novels by women pondering the important question of science and gender. It seems the basic reason that the sociologies of gender and science intersecting matters is this: that intersection is what foregrounds the historical and contemporary controversy about what it means to have ‘life.’
Yes, Life. Yes, it’s controversial.
Leni Zumas’ Red Clocks, narrating the lives of women who are living in a society where abortion is a crime, asks, ‘What is a woman for’? Guess the answer.
Lidia Yukanavitch’s The Book of Joan asks what Joan of Arc would have fought for today were she alive? Guess the answer.
And finally Jeanette Winterson’s Frankisstein asks what Mary Shelley who published Frankenstein in 1818 would have obsessed over today. Guess?
And in your guess don’t forget that each book is written by that singular specimen of the species: the female. And what does that have to do with science, gender and life?
I’ll give one clue because I really like you, reader, and I’d really like to hear from you. Here it is: Only women can have babies. Now I wait for your guesses.
Stuck on an asteroid mining facility, DJ dreams of writing music. His dad is a corporate hacker and his best friend Paul intends to escape to become a settler in a planet-wide land rush, but neither interests DJ.
When his dad goes missing, DJ finds a file containing evidence of a secret war of industrial sabotage, a file encrypted by his dad using DJ’s song Lost Helix. Caught in a crossfire of lies, DJ must find his father and the mother he never knew.
When the mining company sends Agent Coreman after DJ and his guitar, DJ and Paul escape the facility and make a run for civilization. Will DJ discover the truth before Coreman catches him?
Release date – June 2, 2020 $17.95, 6×9 trade paperback, 268 pages Print ISBN 9781939844682 / EBook ISBN 9781939844699 Science Fiction – Action & Adventure(FIC028010) / Crime & Mystery(FIC028140) / YA Science Fiction(YAF056000)
So I have now finished watching the Amazon Prime Video series “Modern Love.”
All 8 episodes. And I beg your pardon, there are 8 episodes, not 7 as I said in my earlier post about this series. But then I’m so fuddy-duddy, so not in the right place at the right time.
But. Besides proof positive for my inkling that according to our culture’s Olympian law-givers in New York City “modern” love ONLY happens in New York City — the modern is always deja vu all over again only there — I noticed something more disturbing.
I have been given to understand that only middle-class white liberals can experience and enjoy “modern” love.
EVERY episode of “Modern Love” is about white, middle-class protagonists rooted in New York. Are there any people of color at all in the series?
We are not stupid, you know.
There are the requisite, regulation magic black, brown and yellow people. But they are the mise-en-scene, the backdrop, the affirmative eyeline match. The people of color are the interestingly colorful people who intensify the feelings, crises and epiphanies of the white folks. You know what that means. They tell white people what their feelings mean.
But the central consciousness is that of the white, upper middle class New Yorker. A brief reprise of the episodes is in order.
Self-made Indo-British wiz kid discovered by journalists who write for the New York Times Sunday supplement magazine.
Sad white bipolar Vassar graduate with black female life coach, her ‘one’ true friend.
Dopey cute Trust Fund heiress looking for soulful writing career and wanting to really know how the common people live.
(Probably) midwesterner white dude (Ohio? Michigan?) transplant in The City dazzled by all that Nuevo Rican cute bod pizzazz.
Silver-haired runner who finds her soulmate at seventy in a perky and endlessly emotionally providing Asian widower.
Biracial gay or white ‘creative’ Manhattanites who eat out all the time and exercise hard.
White girl overcoming deprived childhood and daddy issues by easy, forgiven lying and a black roommate as witness and absolver.
Shame on you, Amazon.
You know, in the seventeenth century, European high culture staged what was called the Battle of the Ancients versus the Moderns. Put quite simply, it was an argument about whether the ancient Hellenic and Hellenistic cultural gurus had already got it all right, or if the emergent voices of the new post-Reformation bourgeoisie got to say a couple things too. Was it Homer, Aristotle and Virgil forever, or was it okay to see go see The Beggar’s Opera, a play about prostitutes, pimps and Mac the Knife?
Jury’s still split. Like that road above. (That’s the jury’s job; they’re like the bewildered chorus, all emotional and confused). Some think the ancient world with all its patrician certainties about power, privilege class, race, gender and culture was baloney. But “Modern Love,” whomever it represents, is all about status quo, about the dead old white guys. All the moderns are white and complicated and all their enabling friends are black, Asian, hispanic and nice.
But some of us are skeptical.
Last but not least, the concluding montage invokes the trendy literary genre of ‘linked stories.’ Linked stories are, I sometimes feel, great off the cuff rainbow nets flung by talented writers feeling too lazy and uninspired to write a whole novel. But in “Modern Love,” the final copout of the final montage sequence only cinches the lurking suspicion we’ve been having for a while. No spoiler here, though.
That, to be modern, to be worth talking about, to have relationships worth talking about, you gotta live in a West End high-rise with a doorman guarding the gate to the only world worth living in, with other white, liberal, well-groomed, articulate and affluent New Yorkers.
The artifact in question: Amazon Prime’s ‘Modern Love’ series based on the New York Times’ ‘Modern Love’ column
I love NYC.
Who doesn’t? It’s a requirement of American coolness. If you don’t, you might be taken for a swamp thing or from another planet. Right? Tell me?
I just finished watching the 5th episode of ‘Amazon’s ‘Modern Love’ series, as I was saying. And guess what? EVERY story is set in New York City. Every character, every mojo, every affect, every quirk — all NYC. Without exception.
Granted, maybe episodes 6 and 7 will be set in Oxford, Mississippi and Makati City, the Phillippines (the world capital of selfie-taking for those of y’all ignorant New Yorkers who didn’t know, all y’all). But secretly, I doubt that. Because why? Because — newsflash, you ignoran’ chillun — the only place in the world that matters (if you ask the New York Times and New Yorkers) is …… you guessed it.
So you see, the rest of us who don’t read our New York Times where Spiderman does are loving disgustingly, primitively, uselessly. I mean, are we even awake? Evolving? Modern? Alive?
I mean, let’s get real here: it’s not clear people who live in Minnesota or South Carolina even have love lives or (in Prairie home companion land) sex at all. (Sorry, you are from NYC and you don’t know what those names mean? Sure, honey, those are two other STATES, of the United States of America. You know? You ever hear about that place, the ‘United StateS’? Honeybaby?)
Heck, in Wilmington and Juneau they’re probably still clubbing their women with legs of elk when dinner is late. And of course, the women in Chicago and Grand Rapids probably can’t run away fast enough because they always dress in bulky sweats and don’t spin.
Other countries? Don’t even talk to me.
How can they have Modern Love? They haven’t even given the world a reality-Tv host and realtor-in-chief who thinks the kidney is in the heart. I’m sure there’s a lot of modern loving going on in his man cave, though.
So, New York. Hey there, buddy. All I can say is, I’m so glad you’re so modern and loving so good. But it’s time to get a little less provincial, wouldn’t you say?
Come on! Live dangerously! Make the next story be about a couple — any race, gender, or species — in Lusaka, or Cleveland! (Okay, look those up yourself, I’m not doing it for you this time!
These are the days of arid pauses and stricken silence. In these days, my talented girlhood friend Debjani — physician, painter, poet, mother, wife and voyager — has come forth with a truly meditative philosophical fable about where our place is, with or without CORONA. I wanted to share it with my readers and friends who are also, perhaps, struggling to find an aesthetic for mutation, muteness and mutability….without despair.
THE DAILY PATH
A ticket for a round trip please. Where to? To a gentler caring world, at least for today.
The Conductor smiled at the naive request, A word of caution… Co passengers happy and sad , quiet and brash, Would travel alongside part of your way. Make room for them you must while looking after your space As you travel the tracks till the end of the road .
Make your choice well where you alight for the day, The desired and perceived may be at variance with the real. The terrain can be slippery and rocky, No green pastures promised. The weather turbulent and stormy, No mellow sunshine promised. A helping hand with kind words would be good fortune, When searching for ways amidst the swirling deafening crowd .
But step down you must to brave the elements, And travel the daily path with the changing tracks. With a reassuring thought… It is a time bound round trip at the end of the day…. The good the bad the ugly, all have their predetermined entrances and exits .
So somewhere alongside the fury of the raging storm, There lies comforting sunshine. So somewhere alongside numbing despair There lies hope, faith and belief .
Did I ever think a novel could be about eating chillies?
A futuristic novel?
A dystopic feminist novel? (Though at about that point the concept starts becoming more familiar, concrete: fiery, feminist foods and readings!)
No I didn’t. Food literature is plentiful, but this is not that.
Read Johanna Sinisalo’s novel The Core of the Sun.
In a breathtakingly paced and suspenseful narrative about sisters who love each other in a world where women are taught to commodify and despise themselves and each other and where men are either predators, oppressors or executioners, Vanna and Mina’s lives grow increasingly surreal in a Finland of the imagination where all pleasure and freedom are banned, identities are cloned, and a rebel subculture of fiery chillie-eaters is growing and spreading right under the radar of a near totally panoptical state. There is betrayal, horror, tragedy and redemption, but thisis not the real Finland, of course. In Finland, I am told, women’s rights are taken very seriously and protected fiercely.
Like the right to eat the hottest, most painful chillies as a substitute for other pleasures and flavors taken away from people in a cold, totalitarian, and feminicidal society.
How can the right to consume inordinately tissue-scarring hot chillies be tantamount to rebellion and freedom? Well, why not?
Occasionally the horticultural detail about growing things — and contraband chillies, especially — flags a bit. But Sinisalo’s achievement is in bringing back to life nature, communities, and human relationships as all intextricably interwoven in the pursuit of happiness through this unlikely and cheeky fable about a world where brain-damaging spice is the only antidote against desensitization and oblivion.
Who WINS, in the end? The state or the people? Men or women? The pursuers or the pursued? Read to find out. . . . .
These are tough times. We feel trapped. We feel alone. We miss the people we took for granted. We miss things we took for granted. We look back on our hopes and dreams. We wonder. We choose. We reflect.
And maybe we read.
Love’s Garden, is now available for pre-order from Aubade Publishing at
That’s right. It took me fifteen years to write about thirty versions of my debut novel Love’w Garden, until editors and readers thought I’d got it right. So, to begin with, writers take heart. The only thing you mustn’t do is stop writing. It will take the time it takes but patience is the sweetest sauce.
I want to share with my dear readers, family and friends, near and far the press release for Love’s Garden. Do browse, and think of eight very happy writers. You’ll see the cover of Love’s Garden on the top right.
OH BY THE WAY! If you have responses to the current cover design of Love’s Garden I’d LOVE to hear from you. The current image is not final, and if you would like to suggest changes I would be more than delighted. Thanks, all! You can comment directly at the link on this post.
Nnedi Okorafor has stolen an irreducible march in the Best Title Ever contest. Who can beat “Who Fears Death” as a title? But more than that, much more, is that Okorafor has shown the way to write fantasy/dystopia that is more than ever a reminder that Truth is way, way stranger than Fiction. If the dystopic Africa of Who Fears Death seems to anyone to be just an imagined, overheated, disjointed, violent and unbalanced society (haha count those modifiers), try reading Emily Wax’s Washington Post article about Sudan and the weaponization of rape. From 2004 on, when we were sitting in our homes and decrying world apathy toward the Sudanese genocide, thousands and thousands of women suffered fates in Sudan equal to if not worse than EVERY scenario of rape and torture that Okorafor evokes in Who Fears Death — I would say creates but then, again, truth is stranger than fiction — in her unforgettable novel Who Fears Death. Onyesonwu, the eponymous protagonist, doesn’t fear death because who fears death after what life shows to be possible in the everyday?
Okorafor was impelled to write this novel after she read that article, but here’s not a case of art imitating life either. The overall effect of the writing transcends its supposed origin story because Okorafor foregrounds the realization that the fictional recounting of horrific gender violence on the scale of atrocities that are globally common enough to seem banal is terrifying at least to a large extent because representation demonstrates the impossibility of itself. Language fails before the scale of the violence and the atrocity so that the witness must shapeshift in order to make sense of a reality that is truly protean in its torments and terrors. The novel was long and at times too richly worked to not become confusing, but that was my failure as a reader. I expected linearity and accessibility in a world that is a minefield of mortal danger for women.
Tommy Orange is a truly talented and revolutionary writer. The concept behind There, There — borrowing and dismantling Gertrude Stein’s comment on Oakland, CA that “There was no there there” — overturns the entire episteme of western culture and consciousness. Yes, there is a there there, Gertrude Stein. You just couldn’t see it. Because your there is not their there.
While admittedly — even undeniably — wicked clever and inventive, Monica Byrne’s dystopic novel lacks even a single shelf for a reader to store their emotions. While I understand that this is the condition and peculiarity of postmodernity, the constant shifts in perspective and the fungibility of characters for one another produce mostly a sense of pastiche and not critique (I’m assuming critique was part of authorial intention, if one might for a second be allowed to revive that moribund concept). With the dense semiotic of the elements of the novel being almost impossible to untangle, ultimately making it impossible to identify with anyone or anything, The Girl in the Road obviously a satisfying artifact of postmodernity but affectively draining and cognitively wearying for the reader. The world that Byrne has created is intensely brittle, manipulated, multidimensional and polymorphous, but less focus on the possibilities of pastiche and paranormality and a little more on the meaning and yield even of shifting positions and subjectivities in a compressed time-space would have made the novel more readable and enjoyable.
I’m taken by how actions are not acted out by the ends of sentences. And by how past and present co-exist easily within ten to fifteen words (though what does that mean for subjectivity anyway?). But there is also a quality of unabashed sentimentality, love-story-like elements. Probably to propel the plot forward? I’m expecting this wry, off-kilter statement about modern — or even ancient — love out of joint, and then the telling veers back into a “love story” timbre. At first the story oscillates between both lovers’ fears of unrequitedness, but later it crescendoes in a poignant parting spawned by the kind of time that is wasted in fears of being unloved and unlovable. A theme subtle and persistent at the same time. Which the narrative voice persistently dangles and withdraws. Just like life itself. I ask myself: what AM I reading? What is this genre? It is generically unfaithful, Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Just like love?
And then, about mid-point, everything seems to become about class. Not the class hasn’t been lurking behind the drop scene all along. I refer here to mid-book, around p. 128 in my edition. I mean, are we actually getting a sophisticated, more wistful version of the West Side Story or Romeo and Juliet here? Final confession: sometimes I felt I was reading a Bollywood romance script where the lovers keep missing each other — a prolonged and tragic When Harry met Sally also — which is not necessarily a bad thing. But maybe the indecisive Man Booker Prize judges should check out Salaam Namaste or practically any Hritik Roshan movie. Subtlety and multifacetedness seem to skirt these parts entirely, like when Connell Waldron thinks of how new girlfriend Helen makes him feel “better”; don’t we just know that this means he’s going to dump her, since untormented love is never script-worthy. Is it Friend Zone all over again, then? The details are tantalizing, ambiguous, and their sums sometimes so banal.
But all this said, the very wonderful things here are the objective correlative for emotions: ‘dry yellows and greens, the orange slant of a tiled roof, a window cut flat by the sun and flashing’ (p. 164), as the cinemascope of debilitating despair. And then an almost Chandleresque evocation of the bad smell of filthy lucre: “That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.” (166).
Check out my new author website for what else I’m reading and writing
Hi people, I want to introduce you to my friend Scott Coon, whose excellent sci-fi/futuristic novel Lost Helix is going to be available for purchase on May 18, 2020.
Here’s the story:
Stuck on an asteroid mining facility, DJ dreams of writing music. His dad is a corporate hacker and his best friend Paul prepares to escape to become a settler in a planet-wide land rush, but neither interests DJ.
When his dad goes missing, DJ finds a file containing evidence of a secret war of industrial sabotage, a file encrypted by his dad using DJ’s song Lost Helix. Caught in a crossfire of lies, DJ must find his father and the mother he never knew.
When the mining company sends Agent Coreman after DJ and his guitar, DJ and Paul escape the facility and make a run for civilization. Will DJ discover the truth before Coreman catches him?
So do check out Lost Helix and support Scott and sci-fi writing! It’s available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes &Noble, i-tunes and kobo! Write a review, if you like, on Goodreads.com.
Africaville is, to put it briefly, stunning. It took me some time to grasp the reasons for the diffuseness of the book’s events, characters, and topography. Frankly, names and places seemed to be jostling, crowding one another too closely, sending things out of focus.
After reading more, though, and noting the peripatetic lives of so many characters in the community — living or dead — I began to realize that the mode is the matter. The diffuseness of the telling gestures at the displacement and movements of the African diaspora, with corners and nooks of the world of Africaville and its residents left in gray shadows such as those an incomplete and un-sutured people’s history and memory create. How else does one talk about what happened to the African diaspora, and what continues to happen today in penitentiaries and purgatories in North America? Last but not least, the delineation of women characters in the book was outstanding, and Zera Platt was someone I got to know and like as if she were a foremother I hope I’ve had.
Frank Chin, playwright, said in 1974 something that might still apply today: “Whites love us because we’re not black.”
There’s only one way to confront the term “Model Minority” in the United States, generally applied to Asians, including South Asians. That way is to understand it as the intentional and painstaking act of ‘modeling’ a minority in the image of the majority. That, Chin was saying, was what some Asians do or feel they must: stay as far away from blacks and hispanics as possible because then the white majority won’t get “spooked” by them. By the way, since the 1940s the word “spook” which originally meant difficult to see, has been used derogatorily toward black people.
Honestly, this is sort of like the terrible, very bad race and color problem in William Blake’s 1789 poem “The Little Black Boy.” There, the African boy twists himself into quite a knot trying to tackle and somehow conciliate the violent mysteries of race and color. He says, poor boy, of his English counterpart:
I’ll shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our father’s knee.
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me.
Yeah. Right on. BE LIKE HIM AND THEN HE WILL LOVE ME.
But how can this one little black boy reconcile the problems of inside and outside, black and white? It’s difficult, he admits.
My mother bore me in the southern wild,
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:
But I am black as if bereav’d of light
I’m black, I’m white. Now black, now white, now black outside, now white inside. It’s a maze. And a chiasmus. (And I’m fairly sure that Blake, one of the smartest men in history, meant us to feel a-mazed)
That’s what we’re still doing as “model minorities,” twisting ourselves inside and outside into shapes of the right color and phenotype so that we’re not mistaken as black or Hispanics. In 1923, in The United States vs. Bhagat Singh, Bhagat Singh Thind demanded naturalization from the US Supreme Court because as an Indian man, he said, he was a “high-caste Aryan.’ Indians were Aryans, so almost white.
Listen, I once had a colleague comfort me during some form-filling bonanza — where of co