With her past seven published novels – written for audiences that range from middle-grade readers on up – Anjali Banerjee didn’t particularly mention male body parts in any great detail. Maybe a twinkling eye here, capable hands there, but she certainly didn’t dwell. But as the saying goes, there’s a first time for everything.
Indeed, welcome to Haunting Jasmine, Banerjee’s eighth novel, her third for adults: Page one opens with an avid discussion on the fidelity factor of male genitalia based on ethnicity, complete with images of… well, shall we say… gold-embroidered formalwear for the faithful Bengali member. Five pages later, our betrayed heroine is not above asking the elephant god Ganesh to put a curse – à la Lorena Bobbit – on her heartbreaking spouse’s non-Bengali, all-American private parts. Oh, ouch.
Painful initial details aside, Banerjee’s latest is actually another easy-breezy, deftly entertaining love story, this time with spine-tingling twists. Searching for respite from her cheating soon-to-be-ex, the eponymous Jasmine heads home to remote Shelter Island in the Pacific Northwest where she’s agreed to watch Auntie Ruma’s bookstore for a month. Auntie Ruma needs the time to have her “heart fixed in India,” and only Jasmine can be entrusted to take care of the historic Victorian and the treasures – literary and otherwise – that reside within.
Books and writing – and certainly some multi-culti magic – have always been a part of Banerjee’s life. Born in India, and raised in small-town Canada and later big-city California, Banerjee found special inspiration in her literary maternal grandmother, herself an English writer who called India home.
From the moment Banerjee “could pick up a crayon and scribble,” she started writing. She wrote her first story at age seven, and in spite of “preposterous premises and impossible plots,” she never stopped. While she’s “not sure of a specific moment when I decided to become a writer” – she did have a few career detours as a veterinary assistant, an office manager, a law student, to name a few – Banerjee readily acknowledges that “writing has always been part of who I am.”
Since publishing her first title in 2005 – her lauded kiddie novel Maya Running, about an awkward young Indian American girl who goes through a 13 Going on 30-sort of transformation (sans the timely fast-forward) and becomes an assertive, multilingual beauty overnight – Banerjee has managed to publish more than a book a year. Even with five books for middle grade readers and three more for us oldsters, all out in just six years, Banerjee insists, “I’m not that prolific!”
In case you’re about to set off for the library or local bookstore, you’ll need the rest of Banerjee’s titles: In addition to Maya, her other younger-reader novels are Rani and the Fashion Divas, The Silver Spell, Looking for Bapu, and most recently Seaglass Summer; her adult titles before Haunting Jasmine are Imaginary Men and Invisible Lives (with nary a mention in either about certain appendages. Ahem).
So Haunting Jasmine starts with quite a saucy departure from your previous novels. What prompted the impulse?
The departure seemed right for my character, a jilted divorcée whose husband cheated on her. He dashed her dreams for a perfect life and a happy marriage – her thoughts seemed appropriate for the situation! [... click here for more]