Thursday, March 19, 2020

Interview with Kiran Bhat Author of we of the forsaken world

Kiran Bhat was born in Jonesboro, Georgia to parents from villages in Dakshina Kannada, India. An avid world traveler, polyglot, and digital nomad, he has currently traveled to more than 130 countries, lived in 18 different places, and speaks 12 languages. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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About the Book

The Internet has connected – and continues to connect – billions of people around the world, sometimes in surprising ways. In his sprawling new novel, we of the forsaken world, author Kiran Bhat has turned the fact of that once-unimaginable connectivity into a metaphor for life itself.
In we of the forsaken world, Bhat follows the fortunes of 16 people who live in four distinct places on the planet. The gripping stories include those of a man’s journey to the birthplace of his mother, a tourist town destroyed by an industrial spill; a chief’s second son born in a nameless remote tribe, creating a scramble for
succession as their jungles are destroyed by loggers; a homeless, one-armed woman living in a sprawling metropolis who sets out to take revenge on the men who trafficked her; and a milkmaid in a small village of shanty shacks connected only by a mud and concrete road who watches the girls she calls friends destroy her reputation.
Like modern communication networks, the stories in , we of the forsaken world connect along subtle lines, dispersing at the moments where another story is about to take place. Each story is a parable unto itself, but the tales also expand to engulf the lives of everyone who lives on planet Earth, at every second, everywhere.
As Bhat notes, his characters “largely live their own lives, deal with their own problems, and exist independently of the fact that they inhabit the same space. This becomes a parable of globalization, but in a literary text.”
Bhat continues:  “I wanted to imagine a globalism, but one that was bottom-to-top, and using globalism to imagine new terrains, for the sake of fiction, for the sake of humanity’s intellectual growth.”
“These are stories that could be directly ripped from our headlines. I think each of these stories is very much its own vignette, and each of these vignettes gives a lot of insight into human nature, as a whole.”
we of the forsaken world takes pride of place next to such notable literary works as David Mitchell’s CLOUD ATLAS, a finalist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize for 2004, and Mohsin Hamid’s EXIT WEST, which was listed by the New York Times as one of its Best Books of 2017.
Bhat’s epic also stands comfortably with the works of contemporary visionaries such as Umberto Eco, Haruki Murakami, and Philip K. Dick.

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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m mostly traveling the world, living here or there. Sometimes I’m enjoying Shanghai street food, and on other days I’m with my extended family at get-togethers in Bangalore or hanging out with my friends in the coolest bars in Carlton, Melbourne. I’ve been to 132 countries and have called 18 places home. I think in each of these places I’ve lived enough to be able to write a story of its own.

When did you start writing?

I started writing in 2007, after a traumatic experience (I was outed to my parents as a gay male, and they weren’t the happiest about it). I needed to write to overcome my feelings of abandonment and insecurity. I ended up writing the most emo poetry of my life, but you know, it led to people recognizing my talents, and encouraging me to write. So, when I got to NYU as an undergrad, I took writing more seriously as an art. I started writing in short story form, and over the course of my advising there, I learnt more and more how to shape fiction, as well as to shape a vision, which will hopefully last for the rest of my life.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

Well, being published, certainly. Before being published, I had a lot of insecurity about my writing. Not necessarily about how talented I was, but by how likely it was that I was going to be noticed by the outside world. Now that I have something worked out with a publisher, I have been able to be noticed by festivals, and writing organizations, and general readers. This makes me feel like my work is going to be taken seriously, and hopefully will be recognised for its literary and artistic value (and that, of course, is a huge boost to self-esteem).

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I really want to get back to Mumbai, India, but not because I want to write my book there, but after having lived as a nomad for nine years, I really want to be in a place I consider home.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

Honestly, I just had a reading for NYU Shanghai, and then met three sets of friends – all unrelated to each other, all in different parts of Shanghai – so that I could get them to buy a copy of my book. If I had an extra four hours, I’d really love to take an extended nap.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I’m someone who is in fact setting a novel in 240 nations of the world right now, so in relation to that, I would like to write some of the stories which were inspired out of me from my travels, but weren’t expanded on because they didn’t have much to do with my novel. So, for example, I wouldn’t mind writing a story I was imagining in Vanuatu, related to a climate change protest I witnessed a few months ago.

Back to your present book, we, of the forsaken world.., how did you publish it?

. I had finished the book in 2016. One of my friends, who was an editor at a small press in New York, gave me a list of agents to contact. Most of them responded stealthily and quickly, but after some months, they did not find my book – experimental, ambitious, overtly literary – to be a quick fit for the market. They had to turn it down. After about a year of waiting for these agents to respond, I started submitting to small presses. It was in 2019 that I got a response from an editor at Iguana Books. They were interested in publishing the book. I told them that I was still waiting for some other publishers to respond, so I asked them to wait for some weeks so that I could get some responses. Within two weeks, this same editor emailed me, asking me to follow up. He really liked this book, and wanted to publish it.

Before my work with Iguana Books, I hadn’t had a publisher respond to me so positively. Admittedly, Iguana Books is a hybrid press. This means that they vet every book project that they take on, but they ask the author to take on the financial burdens of publication. This still did not mean that they had to care so much about my writing. They did a lot of work, from the editorial stages, to the design of the cover, and the maps that I asked to have tailored onto the book itself, to make sure that the book was aesthetically enriched. They spent a lot of time with me talking on the phone, making sure all of my needs were met, from last-minute changes to a sentence or two, to having my books flown to
Hong Kong or Delhi for the sake of book festivals. I do not think having been published by a hybrid press has downgraded the quality of my work in any way; if anything, I am glad to have had people who believe as fondly in my vision as I do. It makes me look forward to later publications, as well as the future of my career.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

The book is oriented around four regions that I invented through my travels all around the world. Of the 132 countries I have visited, I would say that the cities of Sao Paulo, Guayaquil, and Nairobi helped me create my novel’s megalopolis, the stories of Chernobyl and Bhopal mixed with the landscapes of Kisumi, Lake Van, and Odessa constructed the world of the decimated tourist town, my childhood memories in Mysore became the milkmaid and her life, if situated in a small village in Kenya or Peru, and my explorations of the Manu Jungle, Masai Mara, and jungles in Indonesia made the isolated tribe what it was. None of this research was done intentionally, but if I hadn’t been to these places, I wouldn’t have constructed the landscape of my book.

Why was writing we, of the forsaken world... so important to you?

Well, I think it is the first book that works in telling a polyphonic novel with sixteen characters who are tangentially related to each other, in four regions that have nothing to do with each other. It explores human relationships through subtle inter-connections in the themes and emotions of the stories, and I think it is a book that is very global in its structure; not just from a thematic element, but from the very way the story was put together. I think all of these things make the book not only important for me, but important for us all.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

I don’t think I can blame inspiration on one place or space. I simply get ideas – on the metro, right before going to sleep, etc. – and I do my best to build them to fruition, if they are meant to be good ideas. I think a lot of fiction writing also isn’t just about creativity but taking your stories the furthest they can go. That requires more than anything, just taking the time, at least four hours a day, to make sure that your work is the best it can be.

Any final words?

Thanks for having me!

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