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"A Long Lineage of Wanderers": Q&A with Shilpi Somaya Gowda

GowdaOne of our favorite fiction picks of the month is The Golden Son, a novel about family responsibility, love, honor, tradition, and identity. It inspires tears, hope – and lots of thought. We asked author Shilpi Somaya Gowda a few choice questions.

You have written two novels that explore Indian tradition and identity: Secret Daughter and The Golden Son. What draws you to these themes?

I come from a family of immigrants, a long lineage of wanderers. My grandfather left India to set up a trading business in East Africa. My parents left India and eventually settled in Canada, where I was born and raised. I came to the U.S. for university and have lived here ever since, where my children have been born. The idea of being from more than one place, of having multiple cultures as part of my identity and family is very much my own experience. I'm drawn to stories of characters who have to navigate these types of cross-cultural issues, because there are an infinite number of ways an individual can react to the particular opportunities and challenges of being an immigrant, and it's a very universal theme. Almost everyone can point to a story in their family history that features a personal uprooting and resettling.

How was the experience of writing these books the same or different?

Secret Daughter was not only my first novel, it was my first serious writing effort, and that came after fifteen years working in the business world. I had a strong idea of the story I wanted to tell, but very little knowledge of the craft of writing, so I had to learn how to build and structure a novel as I wrote. I was uncertain whether I would even be able to write a full manuscript, but I was very driven to tell that story, and finished it within two years, which seemed like an eternity to me at the time.

Amazon Book Review: The Golden SonThe Golden Son was a very different writing experience for me. The whole idea for the story arc came to me at once, and since I already knew I could write a novel, I believed the rest would happen relatively quickly. Boy, was I wrong: it took over five years to finish, and I rewrote it many times, throwing out several full drafts and starting over – from different points of view, over different time spans, with major changes to plot and characters. It turns out that first idea that came to me was just a suggestion, and as I began to write into it, I discovered the story was much more subtle and nuanced, and much harder to write well. It took many drafts to figure out how to best tell the story that had captured my imagination. Writing from a male perspective and about the medical field also presented its own set of challenges and both required research that took time.

Some authors like to read books that will influence their own work and others prefer not to read anything too similar to what they are writing. What have been some books you've read recently that have inspired you or that you have loved for their refreshing departure from your own work?

I read widely and enjoy all kinds of books, but the ones I find the most inspiring in terms of my own writing are those that are more ambitious in terms of scope (e.g. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese), structure (e.g. A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan) or emotional intensity (e.g. Room, Emma Donoghue). Some other recent books like these I've found inspiring are:


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