Responding With Hope to Sept. 11
Three years after the tragic events of 9/11, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni remains haunted not only by the vivid images of what happened, but also by the repercussions felt throughout the country, especially in the South Asian American community. Indeed, in a report released by the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium six months after the attacks, aptly titled “Backlash: When America Turned on Its Own,” the APA community witnessed a sudden spike in anti-Asian violence, especially against those of South Asian descent. Resembling the enemy literally became a threat to one’s life.
Divakaruni, author of such best-selling books as The Mistress of Spices and Arranged Marriage, uses her latest novel, the magical Queen of Dreams, to capture some of her confusion, fear, and sadness surrounding the events. Ultimately, though, the novel underscores human resilience through the power of hope and forgiveness. Queen is the story of a South Asian American artist in Berkeley who tries to come to terms with the people closest to her heart: her elusive dream-teller mother, her silent father, her growing daughter, and her enigmatic ex-husband. Divakaruni admits it’s her favorite of her own novels thus far.
“I find that when I really care about a character from a particular background, when I look at those people in my own real life, then I feel differently about them. I feel more compassionate. And that’s my hope for Queen and for my community.”
AsianWeek: You taught writing for years in the Bay Area and recently moved to Houston . … What’s that experience been like?
Chitra Divakaruni: I love teaching at the University of Houston. It has the second best creative writing program in the nation. The program is very international, very multicultural with students from all over world. In a small way, I think my presence makes a difference to the students here. In the Bay Area, which is already so multicultural, you don’t have to push for diversity – basically, people agree on its importance. Here in Texas, you have to push, so maybe my presence here is more important than in the Bay Area.
AW: How did Queen come about?
CD: 9/11 happened and that affected me strongly on many levels – there was the national tragedy itself, and then there were the effects on my own community. Those of Sikh background really suffered. I knew I had to write about it but wasn’t sure how to do so.
I also wanted to explore the sense of mystery about the universe. Reality is not as objective as we like to think it is. Reality is subjective: different people come out of the same event seeing and feeling different things. [And] 9/11 is such an example: Some reacted with great fear, others with violence.
For Rakhi [the book’s central character] and her mother, reality operates very differently. The novel questions how we arrive at our notion of reality and [asks], ‘Can we say there is just one reality?’ That sense of mystery and magic is very important in this novel. …[click here for more]