When I married into a Hindu Brahmin family, I began to write seriously as a way to penetrate the protocol of another culture. My novel, Shiva's Arms, explores South Indian life, particularly the stage referred to as samsara.
The term haunted me for awhile— samsara--the sibilance of a word that can connote drowning. I had been reading Indian writers—Lahiri, Desai, Divakaruni-- and was drawn to the stories of immigrant families thrashing in their domestic seas. The plight of characters who straddle two continents, the lives they make here, and the families they leave behind, raised the question: when one belongs to two cultures, which part of a divided self goes, and what stays?
I thought it would be interesting to pit an American believer in individual freedom against a traditional Indian joint-family. People often ask me if I am the main character, Alice. I tell them she has my hair and my fashion sense, but her character is influenced by my fictional universe and the demands it makes on her.
Even a true story is held hostage to memory and interpretation. When fictional truth wins over nostalgia, the story finds its own voice. I am not Alice, but I know her very well.