I got to figuratively sit down with the brilliant author Anita Kushwaha to discuss her novel SECRET LIVES OF MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS. You may recall I reviewed it here before its Canadian release last month. Well, lucky US-ians! Tomorrow we get our chance at this beautiful book about motherhood, family, and the secrets we keep. Refresh your memory with my review and cocktail pairing, and without further framing, here's my Q&A with Anita!
SB: Anita, your book Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters explores the complex nature of the maternal relationship, even when the women in the relationship might never actually meet. What is your relationship with your mother like?
AK: I think every mother-daughter relationship is complex. I suppose that’s why I wanted to write about them in the book, offering a few different models, and a cultural lens, to explore and better understand that complexity, for instance, why we place such high expectations on each other and the costs of those expectations. My characters often grapple with the pressure of being “good daughters,” which can make living authentically a challenge as they try their best to fulfill that role. I love my mom, and we have a good relationship, but we’re human, so it’s complex.
SB: Your book also centers South Asian women and their stories. What do you think is important to understand about these identities, what unique pressures they face internally and externally?
AK: It’s important for me to write from my perspective and through my cultural lens primarily because I grew up thinking I didn’t have the right to. I was raised in a small-town reading books that didn’t reflect my reality as a daughter of immigrants, which left me with the sense that only some stories mattered, and only some people had a right to use their voice. Sometimes the prevailing thought is that life for the mainstream is what reality is like for everyone. I like challenging that idea.
SB: I love that we both started in academia, but left scholarship for writing. Why did you leave the ivory tower, and what do you miss about it? What are you more than happy to be rid of?
AK: I love that we have that in common too! I’m grateful for my previous life in academia, and I credit it for exposing me to people, places, and experiences I wouldn’t have had any other way, but when I finished my doctorate, I was ready to move on. I miss being in the field the most. I got the chance to conduct research in northern Canada and left part of my heart in the arctic. I do not miss the marking. I’m laughing to myself now because my protagonist, Mala, is a scholar too and shares my distain for marking. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.
SB: I know your next book is about sisterhood and inspired by Margaret Atwood's work. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
AK: My current WIP is with my agent at the moment, actually! It’s a sisterhood story, more bitter than sweet, inspired by The Blind Assassin and the Neapolitan novels. Lots of complex family dynamics and secrets, also in keeping in with my interest in exploring issues of identity, belonging, immigrant experiences, and the lives of South Asian women. Trying to understand family dysfunction is my bread and butter, I guess. Endlessly fascinating to me.
SB: You and I have bonded a bit over our love of MLS soccer. How do you think Toronto will do this year, and how will it feel when Atlanta United crushes them?
AK: Haha, I have a feeling this has something to do with the outcome of the eastern conference final last year! Seriously though, we love playing you guys, always so fun to watch those matches. I think TFC did a great job of turning things around last year, everyone was surprised. We struggled with a lot of injuries last year, but I think if we can stay healthy, we’ll be in good shape. Bring it on, LOL!
SB: Finally, what are you most looking forward to as your book releases? What are you hoping people take away from it?
AK: I’m excited about the book being in the world after two years of work and waiting. Of course, this is also what I’m most nervous about, go figure! My hope with writing is always the same, to touch hearts and minds, and inspire empathy. I hope the book sparks conversations around choice, the importance of living in accordance with one’s inner truth, and women’s mental health.