The last word: learning from your readers

I had another book club for A Deconstructed Heart and had a delightful afternoon with a great group of women. It always surprises me how different readers can interpret my book differently and come to wonderfully opposing points of view about the same characters. The whole experience was an interesting exchange, where I learned as much as I shared.

I was honored to be asked to name some of my favorite fiction (not my own) and to have those titles written down for future reference by one or two of the attendees. There’s nothing I love more than to share my love of really good writing, and I steered the reader towards Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall and David Mitchell‘s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

I told the group how much I personally don’t typically get into book clubs since I love to follow the meanderings of my own inclination (although I could make the Desi Lit Book Club an exception). One attendee told me how she loves book clubs because she would never normally pick up some of the books otherwise, and she loves to find the unexpected, to be shown a new perspective, and I realized what a great attitude that evinces. May we always be open to learning something new and having the humility to allow someone else to show us the way. This person is a remarkable example of living well, and the key clearly lies in her desire to always be open to new knowledge.

I was also asked what I learned from the process of writing my book and, until that moment, I had not reflected on what the act of writing had taught me. I realized how much I learned to appreciate my parents’ sacrifice to build a life for our family in England, and that the lesson was a gift. We take our existence and the facts of our upbringing for granted, and rarely acknowledge that there was a time and reality before us for our parents. Writing my book brought me to the understanding of just how much my parents’ immigrant generation had to let go, in order to give me the best chance in life. I’m glad I took the time to reflect on that sacrifice while I can still talk to my elders, and sharing my book with them has been deeply gratifying.

All in all, it was a really charming event and an afternoon I’ll remember fondly. Writing is a solitary act of arrogance, an omnipotent shaping of reality by the impulses of imagination. Readers make the act humane once more, through conversation, connection and communion with the book and with one another. It was a privilege to attend the process–a humbling and enlightening experience, a breaking of intellectual bread with other lively and insightful minds.

 

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Where the conversations never stop…

My promotion for A Deconstructed Heart wraps up in a few hours. It has been a fun and eventful week; heavily promoting my book brought me into a round of delightful conversations with readers and fellow authors. Many of my favorite moments were on Twitter: I received a gracious tweet from a sculptor and fellow author in England who thanked me for sharing the book and told me how much she was enjoying it. I had a meaningful exchange with an author about writing about England and deciding, as readers, at what point we give up on a book that has not made a connection with us. I had a lot of fun with the lively ladies at the Thirty Mommy blog, who had chosen A Deconstructed Heart for their book club of the month. It was fun to chat with them in real-time, having cross conversations with multiple people from various cultures. We discussed the role my character Amal plays with regards to being a caretaker for her uncle, Mirza, and how many of us have taken on unexpected family responsibilities in our lives.

I come away from this week with two thoughts: firstly, how art created in isolation ultimately calls for a shared experience, a human connection at the most fundamental level, and is a panacea for the ills of disconnection in modern life. You may not like the art, you may disagree with it, but hopefully, at the very least it has been thought-provoking and engaged you on some level. The only manner in which art can fail is when it has not succeeded in forming a connection with the reader/viewer/beholder.

Secondly, I was struck this week by how the internet, Twitter in particular, reminded me of what I loved about Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children: in his book, every child born at midnight at the time of India’s Partition is given two magical gifts, the first is unique to that child: it might be strength, or the ability to become invisible… the second is the ability to connect telepathically with all other children born at that moment in history… to meet in the rooms of each others’ minds and hang out together. Twitter was that room for me this week.

Here’s to many more conversations about the human experience sparked by a book, a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music. We need that connection because we need one another. As Desmond Tutu said: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.

A Deconstructed Heart in print

English: Download from paper book to kindle (o...

Finally, after hours and hours of editing, proofreading and just generally being a fussbudget, I have a print edition of A Deconstructed Heart available at Amazon. I think it looks pretty faithful to the Kindle edition, which came out in October last year. The first order of the day as soon as the print edition was available was to let my mother know. I asked her to tell the 90-something lady who has lived across the road from my parents in England for the past 30 years. She is a former journalist and still incredibly sharp; her reading list puts mine to shame. She doesn’t have an e-reader and has been asking how to get a copy of my book. Guess who’s getting a belated Christmas present via US mail?

A Deconstructed Heart

A Deconstructed Heart is the story of Mirza, a middle-aged Indian college professor whose wife has left him. He moves out of his house into a tent in his back garden, where he sets up an outdoor classroom and serves tea to his kind but bewildered neighbors. He is visited by the irritable spirit of his long-dead teacher, Khan Sahib, who is befuddled by the dysfunctions of modern life.
In the north of England, Mirza’s niece, Amal,is finishing up her last year of college before she is expected to join her parents in their new home in India. Asked by her father to talk her uncle back into his senses, she moves into Mirza’s house, and they soon are connected by their shared loneliness. She meets Rehan, Mirza’s student, and is intrigued by the path of certainty he has built over his own loss and loneliness—a certainty that is threatened by his growing feelings for her.

When Rehan disappears, Amal’s suffering forces Mirza is to face the world once more. Together, Mirza and Amal must come to a new understanding of what it means to be an immigrant family when the old traditions have unraveled.

A Deconstructed Heart is a novella that explores the breakdown and rebuilding in one immigrant family trying to adapt: how lines in families and cultures are forcibly redrawn, how empty space can be reframed by a tent into a new definition of home… but how, no matter how hard we may try to forget, the past refuses to be contained.