Tag-Archive for ◊ Columbia University ◊

• Saturday, March 27th, 2021

Marjan Kamali was born in 1971 in Turkey to Iranian parents. Her father being a diplomat, the family moved around the world a great deal and left Iran three years after the 1979 Iranian revolution and moved to Queens in New York.

Kamali studied English Literature at Berkeley University of California and received a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from New York University. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children.

Kamali had had a chance meeting with one of her old professors from Berkeley, the late Leonard Michaels, who had read the short story she had written about the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker and remarked: “You know what this is, don’t you? It’s the first chapter to your first novel”.

Kamali took her professor’s advice and enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts for Creative Writing Program at New York University. Moreover, in her partly autobiographical first award-winning novel, Together Tea, published in 2013, which has been translated into several languages and adapted for the stage, she did not forget to include the spreadsheet-loving matchmaker, the method the mother used to find a suitable husband for her daughter.

The story of Together Tea starts in 1996 after the Iranian Rezayi family emigrates to New York. The novel focuses mainly on the mother, Darya, and her twenty-five-year-old daughter, Mina, their relationship, determination and self-confidence.

Mina, who: “knew how to swing her legs on that hyphen that defined and denied who she was: Iranian-American. Neither the first word nor the second really belonged to her. Her place was on the hyphen, and on the hyphen, she would stay … like a seasoned acrobat; she would balance there perfectly, never falling, never choosing either side over the other, content with walking that thin line”. So she carries the heritage of her family’s past, while her future, combined with her success, belongs to her adopted country.

Unlike Parviz, her husband, Darya, Mina’s mother, finds adapting to her new life and surroundings insurmountable. She is a strong-willed woman who knows what she wants and is not afraid to speak her mind. She is Iranian born and intends to remain one by maintaining her culture, practices and customs. Moreover, now that her daughter has reached twenty-five, she is very keen to find her a suitable Iranian husband, and Darya being a good mathematician, prepares a spreadsheet for eligible Iranian-American suitors.

Narratives from the viewpoint of mother and daughter alternate between chapters. They both have similar characters but opposite outlooks on life; Darya, being brought up in a conservative family in Iran and out of respect for her parents, had to marry the husband chosen for her, while Mina, who came to the West as a child, has a different attitude and wants to marry the man she approves of without disrespecting her parents.

In an interview, the author explains her choice of title for the novel. She says: “The title is actually a phrase that my Farsi-speaking mother-in-law uses when she speaks English. She says, “Would you like to have together, tea?”. I used this phrase as the title because tea is such a huge part of Persian life. Throughout the novel, many characters meet over tea and pivotal conversations between Darya and Mina, Darya and Sam, Mina and Ramin, Darya, Parviz and Sam etc. are conducted over tea”.

Together Tea is a book about an uprooted family fleeing the theocratic government in their country and how each family member overcomes the cultural shock in his or her way and tries to adjust to new surroundings in their adopted country. It is a challenge not uncommon to the majority of migrants all over the world.

The author says about her novel: “I was really inspired because I had been reading books about multicultural experiences and experiences of families immigrating (sic) to the U.S., but I felt I had never read a book that kind of reflected the experience of my own family’s journey … I wanted to write a story that explored the Iranian American experience”.

Together Tea is a touching, enjoyable, entertaining story with an insight into the Iranian lifestyle before and after the 1979 revolution. A colourful description of Persian traditions, culture as well as several appetising details of culinary dishes of which Kamali says: “I did not set out to include so much food – it’s just impossible for me to write about an Iranian family without including the preparation of food and the huge Persian feasts that occur at parties and family get-togethers!” (sic).

In Together Tea, the author illustrates the power of love bonds, peoples sufferings, hopes, resilience, and the search for new identity and belonging. The characters are well depicted and inspire readers’ empathy, and the dialogue does not lack spice.

If you enjoyed reading this article or found it useful, please consider donating the cost of a cup of coffee to help maintain the site...
Author:
• Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Amitav Ghosh was born in 1956 into a middle-class Bengali Hindu family in Calcutta, India, to a lieutenant colonel father and a housewife mother. He grew up in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. He received a B.A. degree in 1976 and an M.A. degree in 1978 from the University of Delhi followed by a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the University of Oxford in 1982. As well as working as a newspaper reporter and editor, Ghosh also taught at the University of Delhi, the American University in Cairo, Columbia University in New York City and Queens College in New York.

Amitav Ghosh is a novelist, an essayist and a non-fiction writer. He has received prestigious awards including the Prix Médicis étranger, The Padma Shri, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Frankfurt International e-Book Award and he has been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and for the Man Asian Literary Prize. The Shadow Lines, Ghosh’s second novel, published in 1988, won the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Ananda Puraskar.

Ghosh is now a full-time writer. He lives between the USA and India with his wife Deborah Baker,
who is a biographer, an essayist and a senior editor at Little Brown and Company, a publishing house in the USA. The couple have two children.

The Shadow Lines is set against a historical background that moves back and forth from the second world war in England to the nineteen-sixties in India, leading to the eighties and interwoven with the fictitious lives of the characters. The author tackles a specific theme: the power of memory, the art of remembering almost everything and how one can travel, virtually, to various places through one’s memories. The writer brings together, through the main nameless character, various periods of time and series of events experienced by generations of the family and friends in Calcutta, Dhaka and London.

Events start decades before the narrator’s birth and end on the eve of his return from London to Delhi. After becoming a mature young man and after studying in London for one year, he comes to terms with the fact that there is no longer hope of having his beautiful cousin, Ila, share his love now that she is married to Nick and madly in love with him despite their misfitted marriage. Before leaving London the narrator also finds out from May, Tridib’s lover and Mrs Price’s daughter, the truth about the mysterious death of his elder cousin and mentor, Tridib, while visiting Dhaka during the Bangladeshi revolt.

Tridib is a great story-teller, through his tales of London and various other topics like “Mesopotamian stelae, East European jazz, the habits of arboreal apes, the plays of Garcia Lorca, there seem to be no end to things he could talk about”, make everything real for his younger cousin. Both cousins are gifted with vivid memories, an acute sense of perception of the past as well as a strong desire to learn new things to feed their imagination. Additionally, the narrator’s grandmother, through her many stories about Dhaka, where she was born before settling in Calcutta, has “no home but in her memory” and she makes the narrator feel as if he was there with her.

The narrator realises, while sitting on the edge of a camp bed in the cellar back in Raibajar with his beloved cousin, Ila, surrounded by objects that carry a lot of memories, like ghosts of time, that “they were not ghosts at all: the ghostliness was merely the absence of time and distance – for that is all that a ghost is, a presence displaced in time”.

The Shadow Lines is a compassionate, powerfully moving novel in many ways. Ghosh masterfully expresses his thoughts in his eloquent writing. His characters are well depicted in an interesting, vast array of individuality. The narrator is a passionately imaginative recorder of the events and lives of people around him. The young Tridib is an idle, avid, multifarious intellectual. Ila is portrayed as a spoiled, beautiful young bohemian seeking complete freedom in her new world and although born an upper-class Indian, feels devoid of identity. Tha’mma’s husband dies when she is thirty two years old and in order to survive, she works for twenty seven years as a schoolmistress in Calcutta. She is hard working and authoritarian unlike her only sister, Mayadebi, who is richly married and referred to ironically as “Queen Victoria” by her elder sister. There is also the very old friends of Tridib’s family, Mrs Price, and her two children, May and Nick.

The violence in Dhaka and Calcutta described subtly by Ghosh and shown as incomprehensible and aberrant brutality, as in the violent death of the innocent Tridib, sadly still exists today in many other places of the world, e.g. in Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Libya, Israel, Yemen and Bahrain. In his novel, Ghosh describes shadow lines that create a seemingly unbridgeable gap producing bloodshed. These lines leave their shadows wherever they happen to be. They are irrationally man-made in order to divide people and separate countries artificially. While wars, religions, partitions and violence alienate people and nations, at least the power of memory combined with imagination keeps them united.