Today I am taking part in the blog tour and sharing an extract from Still Lives by Reshma Ruia, published by Renard Press,.
Still Lives is a tightly woven, haunting work that pulls apart the threads of a family and plays with notions of identity. Shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize.
The novel is a multi-cultural family saga about betrayal, love and belonging. It is set in Manchester and it explores a man’s desire for love and fulfilment and his need to weigh it against family loyalties and expectations of the society around him.
It portrays the arc of an entire lifetime, not just the tug of the past, but also the pull towards a better-imagined future.
The story is about a family slowly falling apart, but it also provides a twist on the conventional immigrant story, by challenging assumptions regarding identity, assimilation and what it means to be old and still be consumed by fires.
He’s in a good mood because it’s a Thursday, which means he’ll soon be going home to have sex with his wife. Driving home, I overtake a hearse on the M56. There are blurred faces inside the cars that follow. The rain hits the windows, smudges their features, streaks down their cheeks, like a clown’s tears. I think of Gupta’s words. I think of my twenty-five-year-old self who’d left Bombay ready to start a new life in America. I’d stopped in Manchester for a few days to see an old school friend who was studying accountancy at Manchester Poly.
‘Stay a bit longer?’ Gupta had suggested when it was time for me to move on to America. We were sat at a bus stop eating our fish and chips, our fingers stinking of vinegar, waiting for the 215 to take us to Levenshulme, to Gupta’s rented one-bedroom flat. ‘Manchester’s small. It’ll be easy to make money here. To hell with America,’ he said, cocking a finger to the sky. His eyes were lonely, but he had swagger in those days. I stared at the clouds and the dull brown huddle of buildings around, and thought, He’s right. It would be easy to shine in such small place.
‘Tell you what, I’ll stay for a bit!’ I slapped Gupta’s back and said I’d make a few quid and then carry on. Those early days. We were like brothers, Gupta and I, sharing rooms in Levenshulme, whining about the cold and the thin English girls with their bony thighs who giggled at our accents but let us squeeze their breasts at the Bellevue cinema. Manchester was a mistake. I should’ve carried on to America, got proper training in high-tech designing, then moved to France.
‘Why do you want to mess with America?’ Father had asked me. ‘It’s a godless place. Stay back. Bombay is booming beta. Even McDonalds is opening a branch in Juhu.’ But I’d made up my mind. ‘I want to try my luck in America,’ I said. I had received a scholarship offer to study textile printing
at Delaware college. Once there, anything was possible. India was a dead-end street, strangled by red tape and babus begging for bribes. America was the future, with its shiny, germ-free, dirt-free cities. I thought of my job as a shipping clerk in Wadia & Sons, and told Father I was sick of running errands, answering phones and preparing endless cups of chai for the department.
Father jabbed his finger against my chest. ‘You’ve got a soft Indian brain; it won’t work in America. They will fry you alive, son.’ He was sixty, an old man, and I was his only child. I understood his desperation, so I kept quiet and let him rant. Mother would’ve backed me, told me I was right, but she was dead. We stood in the queue at the State Bank of India. I watched him draw out his savings. Eight thousand rupees for a one-way ticket to New York via Doha and Manchester. Travel didn’t come cheap those days. ‘I’ll come back rich and famous,’ I promised him, slipping the notes into my wallet.
Father just kept shaking his head, his eyes hazy with tears. The day I left he broke a coconut for good luck and handed me a silver coin with Goddess Lakshmi imprinted on it. I must still have it somewhere. ‘At least try and be sad,’ he said. But I made the mistake of breaking the journey in Manchester and meeting up with Gupta. I got caught up in the business of buying and selling second-rate frocks. America became just a word on a map.
STILL LIVES BLOG TOUR
Follow the tour along the way for these bloggers thoughts on Still Lives. My thanks to Will from Renard Press Ltd. for my spot on the blog tour and for the promotional materials.
LET’S GET TO KNOW RESHMA RUIA
A peripatetic childhood that spans India, Italy, France and Britain. Reshma Ruia is at home nowhere and everywhere, a magpie, cherry-picking facts and fables from every culture and society. It’s what writers do – everything is material. They are scavengers and creators. Their roots are portable. Their imagination infinite.
She has a PhD and Masters (Distinction) in Creative Writing and Critical Thought from Manchester University and postgraduate (Distinction) and undergraduate degrees from the London School of Economics.
Born in India, but brought up in Italy, her narrative portrays the inherent tensions and preoccupations of those who possess a multiple sense of belonging.
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