(Signed Lahiri book and Nicole Krauss speaking)
My hometown (Indianapolis) does not get a lot of book tours. So when writers come to visit it feels like quite a treat. One local college, Butler University, offers an amazing free program, open to the public. It’s called the Vivian S. Delbrook Visiting Writers Series and it brings some wonderful authors into Indy to speak.
In the last month I had a chance to attend one featuring Nicole Krauss and another with Jhumpa Lahiri. I’m a fan of both authors’ work. I loved Interpreter of Maladies and The History of Love, but subsequent books from both have cemented the authors’ writing styles as favorites for me.
Krauss read from her novel Great House before answering questions. She discussed how writing from a different perspective often gives authors the freedom to say things that you couldn’t say if you were writing about someone similar to yourself. For example, in The History of Love Krauss’ main character is an elderly old man. She said she considered him the closet to her own personality, but because he was physically so different from her she was able to write more freely about things like loneliness, love and parenthood from his perspective.
She also talked a bit about her own ancestors who inspired bits of her books. Her Grandma was from Nuremburg, Germany, but she made it out before the war. In Nuremburg she fell in love with a doctor but she thought he had died and she left the country. She later fell in love with someone else and they got married. In America she discovered the doctor had lived when he tried to contact her, but she never wrote back to him because she decided that wasn’t part of her life anymore. Krauss said she didn’t model the characters on her grandparents, but she drew inspiration from them.
One other funny side note; when she first started having some success in New York as a writer, she would get messages on her answering machine for the author Nicola Kraus, who co-wrote The Nanny Diaries.
Lahiri was just lovely. She read from Unaccustomed Earth and also a bit from her new novel, which is set to be published in Fall 2013. She answered questions about her writing habits and themes in her books.
One thing that was interesting was her comments about the importance of food in cultural identity. She remembered growing up in America and having parents that returned to India and brought back groceries on every trip. They wanted to make specific foods but were unable to find the foods and groceries they needed in the shops in America.
In each of Lahiri’s short stories and her novel one of the main themes is the characters’ struggle with having two different cultures inside of you. Some are born to Indian parents in America, others are born in India and moved to America later. She does such an excellent job of portraying that delicate dichotomy.
Here are two things she said which stood out to me…
“Writers are readers who picked up a pen.”
“Writing a story is like having a dream, but you’re in charge of it.
*Photos by moi.