Chatelaine’s latest book club pick is Everything Was Good-bye, by Gurjinder Basran. Gurjinder has written an insightful novel set in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, a story of cultural assimilation and integration – in the vein of Shilpi Gowda’s Secret Daughter, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and the works of Anita Rau Badami. Basran’s protagonist, Meena, struggles between the sometimes conflicting values of her family’s two homes and cultures: one Indian, one Canadian.
Today, the Indigo Blog is pleased to share this guest post from Gurjinder, on how her novel came to be.
The Inspiration for Everything Was Good-bye
The novel, Everything Was Good-bye was inspired by my own upbringing and before I ever conceived of it as a novel, it was simply a collection of personal memories and vignettes stitched together in an attempt to understand my own past.
Like the protagonist, Meena, I am the youngest of six daughters, and was raised by my widowed mother in the lower mainland of British Columbia. My father had died shortly after my family moved from England to Canada, and though I was very young at the time of his death, his absence and the legacy of that void had a profound impact on our family. Even though it was never said, being a family of women seemed to make us vulnerable in the community and implied that we had fewer choices than many of our peers who had a male influence in their life. At home, I was expected to behave in a manner fitting our family’s traditional Sikh beliefs even though I had grown up surrounded by western pop culture, liberal views and feminist notions. Outside the home, like most teenagers, I simply wanted to fit in but of course given the restraints of my home life, I never did.
Being an Indo-Canadian, I’d come to accept that this duality was normal and part of a multicultural society but for me this duality didn’t add up to a sense of wholeness and in fact I felt like I was living in halves. At the time, I wasn’t conscious of how the conflicting cultural dynamics in and out of the home were impacting me and I certainly couldn’t articulate it to myself or anyone else but as I began to write about my own childhood it was clear to me that I had grown up on the periphery of two worlds, never quite sure which one I preferred, or which one I belonged in.
It was this type of thinking and the “what ifs” of my life that moved me from writing for my own personal exploration to writing a novel and it wasn’t until I was well into the writing of Everything Was Good-bye that I realized that the fiction was teaching me the truth about life. I suppose that’s the wonderful and magical thing about fiction - it’s not real, but it is true and as a reader when you come face to face with the truth in a story, it’s surprising and liberating. In the book, Meena is paralyzed by her own desires and the contrasting cultural expectations of others and as she attempts to strike a balance by living two ways, appeasing everyone in hopes of maintaining an illusion of a suitably fulfilled life, her life begins to unravel. For most of my life, I too had believed that my choices were limited and or defined by my heritage and through the writing, came to understand that my ancestry can’t define me because no one thing can define a person. The writing taught me that it’s enriching to know where I’m from but it’s empowering to know that my actions determine who I am and that the determination is a life long process. Writing Everything Was Good-bye changed my life in many ways; I have a stronger connection with my family, greater respect for my heritage and a better understanding of self.
People have often asked me what message I wanted to convey to the reader and are usually surprised when I tell them that I don’t have a message. My only hope is that the book shows them something about who they are, in the same way that it showed me something about who I am.
-Gurjinder Basran, March 2012
Our thanks to our friends at Penguin Books Canada for facilitating this blog, and of course to Gurjinder herself for composing and sharing it. We wish them the best with this new novel.
Author photo credit: James Loewen.