I would like to welcome Kamala Nair, Hometown Track Minnesota Author in the Spotlight. Here is her guest post on her book The Girl in the Garden and the background behind the story. Enjoy!
For a long time the world of my first novel, The Girl in the Garden, was a place I inhabited alone, my secret enchanted garden that I slipped into every morning before heading to the office. Now it belongs to thousands of readers, many whom have asked me: “Are you Rakhee?” Sometimes they just assume we are one and the same, telling me “I just got to the part where you and your mother arrive in India.”
At first this reaction caught me by surprise. “Of course I am not Rakhee,” I would respond, unnerved by this unexpected confusion of identities. This was not a thinly veiled memoir, it was fiction, I would hasten to point out while privately reassuring myself that I was hardly so devoid of creativity as to insert myself as the protagonist of an intensely imagined fairytale. As my indignation subsided, and I was able to regard the question without pride or vanity or naïveté, I realized how very much of myself and my family history, had gone into the creation of Rakhee Singh, and how she, in turn, had influenced the woman I have become in writing about her.
Like Rakhee, I grew up in small towns, first in upstate New York, then in Vermont, and finally in Minnesota, where I moved when I was twelve and stayed until leaving for college in Massachusetts. My father is a physician at the local hospital, and he spent his childhood in a village that served as a loose template for Malanad, including the ayurvedic hospital started by his father. My mother grew up in Trivandrum, and in everything from her beauty to her grace to her fierce intelligence and strength of heart, she was one of the heroes of my childhood, much as Rakhee’s mother is a queen to her awe-struck daughter.
As Rakhee entered the strange territory of her ancestral village, Malanad, so, too, did I go back to those many summers I spent in India as a child. I revisited my memories: the rituals, the ethos, the social politics I observed, as well as the feeling of being a fish out of water in a place that was so intimately tied to my identity.
I poured a great deal of myself into Rakhee, even as she grew away from me into her own distinct personality. She is much wiser, more headstrong, courageous, and sensitive, than I ever was at her age. She is also much lonelier. While I wasn’t the most outgoing kid, I always had friends, and was lucky enough to have a sister who I grew up with, and two stable, loving parents who still live in Minnesota and just celebrated their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary.
Some of my favorite novels are deeply rooted in the authors’ personal histories without delving into strict autobiography, from To Kill a Mockingbird to Jane Eyre. These works served as guides as I began this process, and continued to inspire me throughout.
Ultimately, Rakhee turned out to be a highly romanticized version of myself, and something much greater than myself. She has been able to say so much about life that I, hiding in her shadow, would never have been able, or have had the right, to say. She has lived a life of which I have only dreamt.