Mira Jacob Posts

Mira Jacob’s “Good Talk”

Award-winning author Mira Jacob‘s Good Talk is a graphic memoir. It was written after the extraordinary success of her 37 Difficult Questions From My Mixed-Race Son: “Are white people afraid of brown people?” published on BuzzFeed ( 8 June 2015). Though seemingly inspired by the questions her son posed to her incessantly about Michael Jackson, music and race but the Good Talk is also much more. It is much more than the conversations every sane and rational parent has with their children, let alone those of mixed parentage. It is all about the difficult conversations that are most often ignored even by adults. These are mostly revolving around race in America.

Mira Jacob’s Syrian Christian parents immigrated to America in 1968. So Mira and her brother were born and brought up in America and are Americans. Yet because of their brown skin colour the Jacob children have experienced racism at all levels whether as microaggression or explicity racist comments/attacks as the horrific one described in Good Talk of Mira Jacob being physically assaulted in public. This is quite unlike the America Mira Jacob’s Jewish husband, Jed Rothstein, has ever had to face as he is white.

To unpack all that exists in this exquisite graphic memoir will take an essay longer than the book itself! There is much to read, analyse, mull over and share. Many, many readers will have the same reaction that they did to Mira Jacob’s first book The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing — “This is a story about us and our family.” It is immaterial that Good Talk has been written by an American of East Indian / South Asian origin. This is a book that will resonate with readers of different nationalities. A fact Mira Jacob records in “I Gave A Speech About Race To The Publishing Industry And No One Heard Me” about the reaction of readers to her first novel.

…really, it happened a lot. It happened with people of all ages, races, and genders. It happened at readings and it happened in emails and a lot of times it was just a thank you for writing this book — but just as often, it was someone commenting on the family dynamics. “I know you are Indian,” they would say, “but really, this is about my family, the Italians. My family, the Jews. My family, the Greeks. The Dominicans. The Koreans. The Irish.”

In a fabulous interview on Longreads, Mira Jacob speaks of the title, particularly within the context of parenting in this new world. ( “Imagine Us, Because We’re Here: An interview with Mira Jacob, March 2019)

The title is really tongue in cheek because so many of the talks in here are not anything you would ever call a good talk. For me, it’s almost like when you step away from a conversation that you know has gone bafflingly off-the-rails and you’re like, ‘good talk, good talk’ you know? You just say it to yourself in this way that’s like, ‘that was a disaster, I don’t know how anyone is going to recover from that one!’ Mostly I would leave conversations with him and I would be like, ‘that’s another five years of therapy right there.’

This is the really frustrating thing about being a parent especially in this moment, but I imagine all parents in every moment feel this — that despite all your carefully laid ideas about how you’re going to grow a small human into a big one, it’s just a disaster. It’s a shitshow left and right. You’re doing your very very best and it is so not even close to enough.

Good Talk must be read by everyone. This is not a memoir meant only for adults. Share it widely.

10 June 2019

Literati – “Storytelling” ( 6 Dec 2014, The Hindu)


Jaya Bhattacharji Rose( My monthly column, Literati, in the Hindu Literary Review was published online ( 6 December 2014) and will be in print ( 7 December 2014). Here is the url http://www.thehindu.com/books/literary-review/literati-a-look-at-the-world-of-books-publishing-and-writers/article6667631.ece . I am also c&p the text below. )

Watching Ameen Haque of The Storywallahs perform at the Kahani Tree, Bookaroo, was a treat. He wove stories, poetry and music together and had the audience singing and laughing along with him. In the short interaction, the children were introduced to the radical idea that crying is perfectly normal for boys and grown men.

Telling tales

Even when adults communicate, it is inevitably through stories. We call it conversation. Break up the conversation and analyse it. It is anecdotal, replete with stories and vignettes. The impact of a well-told story is immeasurable. Similarly a book allows a quiet engagement between the author and a reader. Books make you see the world afresh. It works for all age groups.

This relationship between books and young readers was apparent at an event organised by SCWBI India in partnership with Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan and the Bookaroo Childrens’ Literature Festival. The topic was “LSD: Love, Sex and Darkness in Books for Children” and the participants were educationist Dr. Shalini Advani, author Samina Mishra, illustrator Priya Kuriyan, and publisher Sayoni Basu.

“Should children’s books only deal with happy things? What about death, violence and sexuality? What about darkness and ugliness?” These were some of the questions raised.

Dr. Advani pointed out that adults tend to be more uncomfortable than children. “For adults, our role is to drag these issues out into the clear light of day. To normalise them as a part of the circle of life so that children — who think about them anyway — learn healthy ways of talking about them and thinking about them. It’s not happy worlds that young people seek. So it is not about whether a book has death or perfidious adults or parental divorce or pain. But more about how it is done — young people don’t like to be lectured to or even gently educated.”

Some recently YA books — Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar about a teen who may be a lesbian;Smitten by Ranjit Lal about a teen who is molested by a family member and Jobless Clueless Reckless by Revathi Suresh about a pregnant teen — have tackled these tricky topics.

***

Fiction relies upon storytelling to represent experiences, although its impact depends on the author’s magic with words. At times the storytelling has visible weaknesses but the reader persists, usually out of curiosity about a new topic. For instance, Sonora Jha’s Foreign (farmer suicides in Vidarbha); Pia Padukone’s Where Earth Meets Water (9/11 and the 2004 tsumani), Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman(indentured labourers on sugar plantations in British Guiana), Mira Jacob’s The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Syrian Christian family in New Mexico), and Robert Allison’s The Letter Bearer (WWII, amnesia).

Inclusive fiction

Exquisite storytelling and its impact is apparent by the recent online conversation between Amitav Ghosh and Raghu Karnad regarding Flanagan’s 2014 ManBooker Prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The two Indian writers discussed the inclusive capacity of historical fiction and the “duty” of a novelist but also gave insightful comments about a moment in history that had been made accessible through contemporary fiction.

The legendary publisher Gordon Graham puts it prophetically in a 1980 essay reprinted in As I was Saying: Essays on the International Book Business, “Creative composition in the electronic age will not happen at the moment when the author and the publisher decide it is releasable.” It will happen with the active participation of the reader. A statement that holds true 35 years later.

Irrespective of age groups and formats, the importance of storytelling can never be negated since it is an important module of communication and transmission of information, requiring the active participation of all stakeholders.

Update ( 6 December 2014):

In the paragraph listing the debut writers I should have clarified that it is not only fiction, but also nonfiction by relies upon the art of storytelling. Hence I have included Gaiutra Bahadur. My original list was much longer than was finally published.

6 December 2014