Late Night Debut, hosted by Amber Keller
This month we feature Shobha Rao’s debut short story collection, An Unrestored Woman, published by Flatiron Books. Kirkus Reviews calls it “stunning and relentless,” saying that the stories focus on “how the actions of those in power affect vulnerable women and children on both sides of the divide.”
Act 1: Host Amber Keller covers entertaining book culture news and cool new debuts
Act 2: Kjerstin Johnson and Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt discuss Shobha Rao’s debut
Act 3: Kjerstin Johnson speaks with Shobha Rao about using multiple points of view, tapping into your rage, writing about a time of conflict, and the value of endurance

Purchase An Unrestored Woman on IndieBound


[email protected] BY

Shobha Rao moved to the U.S. from India at the age of seven. She is the winner of the 2014 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, awarded by Nimrod International Journal. Her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in the Best American Short Stories 2015. She lives in San Francisco.

Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. She was editor in chief of the magazine Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture and currently is web editor at The Masters Review, a platform for emerging writers. She has a master’s in book publishing from Portland State University, where she currently teaches writing and editing.

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt is a professor in the department of English and Creative Writing at Linfield College, Oregon. Dutt-Ballerstadt specializes in postcolonial literature and theory, and also coordinates the Gender Studies Program at Linfield. Her book, The Postcolonial Citizen: The Intellectual Migrant was published in 2010.

United States


00:00:00it just finished writing a story so he must have the story made into a book from the reader that they take a few steps it's not across the tracks at least towards the tracks right well it's that romantic image of the Mind
00:00:39hey everybody I'm Amber Keller recording from the Rai Ramen Portland Oregon and you're listening to late night debut join the L&L book club for 9 99 a month you will receive a gift wrapped book each month often in advance of its Pub date will also feature of the author on Late Night conversation or this program and you'll receive an extra surprise book gift every other month because this is our club and we said so the late night library book club is like no other it's dedicated to debut books we prioritize books by authors of color and women authors and a majority of our featured books are published by independent presses sign up now at late night library. Org our April Book Club selection is or Hans and heritance by Ali know Hun Sen published by Algonquin books when Oregon's grandfather is found dead in a vat of blue dye or hun inherits his Kilim rug making Dynasty
00:01:37old man leaves the rest of his estate to a stranger thousands of miles away leading orhan to uncover the devastating truths of his family's past the New York Times book review calls at a book with a mission giving a voice to history's silent victims it's a debut you won't want to miss sign up for the L&L book club by April 4th to get your copy in the mail act 1 of tonight's program is entertaining book culture news and cool new debuts Act 2 shirts and Johnson and reshmi Detwiler stat discuss Shobha Rose debut short Story collection an unrestored woman published by Flatiron books at 3 and speaks with Shobha about her debut if you'd like to win a copy of an unrestored woman email me at Amber at late night library. Org with unrestored giveaway in your subject line I'll pick one winner at random from all the responses any listener who has not won a late night library podcast is eligible to end
00:02:37alright everybody it's time to listen
00:03:01at one entertaining book culture news and cool new debuts a new start-up jelly books which offers readers free ebooks and exchange for data mining their reading habits has discovered that although men and women are equally likely to give up on a book man give up faster the exception books that deal with feelings they found that when it came to books about grief love and relationships men are less likely to pick them up and more likely to quit reading them early this finding sounds like a stereotype to me and it made me question the quality of the books they offered their guinea pigs but you can check out the full story in the guardian to judge for yourself
00:03:45let her have asked 15 clear authors including Jacqueline Woodson say Jones and Megan Cruz what books they wished they dread as lgbtq teenagers the resulting list includes Sula by Toni Morrison Alison bechdel fun home pretty much all of audre Lorde poetry and many new are titles perhaps not surprisingly the authors also recommended some of their own Works Malinda Lo explains I read so much fantasy as a teen but none of it included people like me find the whole list at Le Tub lots of great day buddy literature coming your way this spring including Tony Tula to Moody's private citizens out last month from William Morrow and Company the book follows for San francisco-based Millennials as they struggle to figure out their place after college The Village Way says that Tula to Moody's voice is satirical yet filled with the humanity one needs to discuss our posts and Saturday world
00:04:45without sounding like a complete ass so John and McCray's debut poetry collection Rapture comes out next month from graywolf press the Palms explore the lives of the Korean mother and his American father who was a Vietnam War soldier as well as his own life Tracy K Smith chose the manuscript for the Walt Whitman award saying that the poems are so beautifully crafted so courageous in their truth-telling that they stopped her in her tracks as a judge and changed her as a person this book cover is pink people and it definitely deal with the feelings but I have faith that the mail so can this audience will not only pick it up but be carried forward effortlessly to its finish
00:05:31look for it and private citizens at your local independent bookstore or online at indiebound. Org
00:05:38tonight's feature book is an unrestored Woman by Shabba real published by Flatiron books it features 12 pairs short stories that follow the lives of characters affected by the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan cricket reviews calls it stunning and Relentless saying that the store is focus on how the actions of those in power effective vulnerable women and children on both sides of the Divide
00:06:24Act II sherston Johnson and reshmi dub Ballers. Discuss Shobha Rouse debut short Story collection and unrestored woman published by Flatiron books Justin Johnson is a writer and editor living in Portland Oregon she was editor-in-chief of the magazine bitch feminist response to pop culture and currently is web editor at the Masters review a platform for emerging writers she has a master's in book publishing from Portland State University where she currently teaches writing and editing reshmi dip dollar set is a professor in the department of English and creative writing at Linfield College in Oregon that specializes in post-colonial literature and theory and also coordinates the gender studies program at Linfield her book of the
00:07:12postcolonial citizen the intellectual migrant was published in 2010 with rush me to talk about a new book from Showboat out called the unrestored woman which is a collection of short stories but many of them are linked together through a character to a family that all surrounds the 1947 partition of India I think in particular we're going to discuss the first two stories in a book of 12 stories is the titular story and unrestored woman followed by the merchants mistress and we thought we'd share an excerpt from the first story before we got started
00:08:05alright I'm reading from the very beginning of the first time story and here it starts Nila on the night she learned of her husband's death sat under the Banyan tree outside her hat and felt an intense hunger it was on the night of the train accident no not an accident she corrected herself not at all she felt the same hunger on her wedding day she was 13 years old and she sat on the altar wearing a sparkling red saree and the gold mangalsutra around her neck even by the reduce standards of the impoverished Norton Village and tried desperately to silence a growling stomach
00:08:53sentence beginning I think it's the sense he was a girl who is of course 13 really a child bride but that's not on, 19 during that time but she's just learned of her husband's death and she's not particularly sad know when she learns her exactly what you did you know catches the reader in a way of card but it's also very telling about the relationship that she has with her husband had with her husband to know and and what that all meant right and as you read you sort of find out that this instance of her husband dying in it would appear to be a train accident it almost what in some ways should be the end of her life in fact her mother-in-law can tells her to kill yourself
00:09:53now that her husband said but in fact she escapes that and ends up in a I don't know what to call a camp to Camp. Yes which was very
00:10:08I don't know what it was, not the time you know because when does the historical backdrop of the story is of course the partition between India and Pakistan and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees it was 14 million 14 million Hindu 6 and Muslim people migrated it was one of the largest mass migrations in modern history so Anita is very situated and other characters in the story this young girls are very much a part of that migration history and many of them because their husbands were killed our parents were killed you know during the mass riots at that time or massacres that happened we were orphaned you know so the refugee you know I think the cams 1949 I think India legislated
00:11:08the return of this women with that dr. persons recovery in the restoration act but but but all of these very young children women they were sent to various cams for to be restored you know I think from the past from the memories from the trauma and so I think very very much see that in the first story right here yeah she in fact mizza another woman at the camp and they strike a very close friendship that lasts only for 10 days but it's very affecting to relax to be so intimate with this other woman and I think that's one of an engine that's represent something with it within the book is the inner lives of women and how they under duress and extreme circumstances I'm fine very small ways to survive to keep others around
00:12:08I'm alive absolutely you know because when in the story been to find out very early on that has been tased I need a smothering not commit suicide right and wanted her to by giving her poison and she she it was her will to live her strength to live she rejected that somehow but and that sounds very tempting right I mean in a way it did it has of interesting patriarchal truck running through throughout the story is that in the absence of the sun on the husband women's lives matter little Associates kitties and that's really all so interesting that in the camper when she met this young woman who is an older than her 18 or 19 at the time I knew this is where they also it's not just friendship but they have
00:13:08their first address for vanilla in her sexual Awakening yes it's the first time she I think the author conveys is very well feels a sense of love yes from another person accidentally and I think there is some there is a place where they do in the story but Midway through my knee. Compared herself to being an unwanted fruit
00:13:38and so that's a relationship especially you know with her and her husband she if she has she is and she's just always feel abandoned and you know she was married for navigation she had to be married to you know but it wasn't it wasn't a marriage where was out of love there was no deep affection so from that point of view I do think that you know the Raiders presence in her life was the first time I did it you ain't no way that's her first restoration yeah if you can let's talk about that the title of the story is but unrestored woman the title of the book and it was a very purposeful title her authors note Shobha Rowell rights in 1949 India legislated the return of these women who have been affected by the partition with the abducted person's recovery and restoration act though the commonly used term for these women is recovered women I have chosen to refer to them as we stored
00:14:39it's very interesting right I mean it's it's it's that many ways to read you know the idea of what is restored you know is it because this way when were seen as damaged and hence the restoration another way to look at this is what are these women being restaurant from right is it a past is it the war is it certain sites of deep depression or violence that were imposed on them and then of course there is a futuristic we are looking into this which I think there's ample examples of that in the novel that one of these women being restored into the question I think of objectivity and subjectivity who who restore someone else yes or is that something you do to yourself and who gets a say in whether you are restored or not and I think
00:15:39I learned about on the partition for the first time from this book because they don't teach that there was a very traumatic event and for women and children specially especially I was drawn but 1947 midnight was the hour where the petition was announced and it was immediately this set of trailer for events in other words a communal riots in or they were the trains that run from India to Pakistan you know it was massacres on both ends you know they were the prince it arrived arrived with dead bodies and the trains that came from the other side you know so there is no neutrality you know in this movement and it was also
00:16:39very much based on religious and communal separation although India in Ohio is a secular country and Pakistani knows I'm all religious Nativity credit country so all that Hindus have to come from Pakistan if they live then the undivided India so they had to come back to India and a lot of these massacres are happening in the middle you know I'm and then before they were lots of men women and children walking like you know like we have most recent to see in the image of a Syrian refugees in are playing in a war and this is this this this particular novel you know is you can situate this in this trajectory of other novels that have been written about the partition starting from University City was the cracking India to
00:17:39who sings the train to Pakistan I believe another novel is called when the body remembers I think Shauna sing Baldwin in the body remembers and then again you know these are all novels that are kind of very congested history that history is a very contested history depends on from which point of view is the story of the petition written how how do you say this book in particular fitting into that larger context of books that have been have have been written about this and also I'm curious to know because it is with any of that like this that's horrific entrematic you know what it how art writing film is able to know no single work contain and I also how do you say different writers and artists of the strengths I think off this collection of short stories is that it allows many different perspectives
00:18:38are points of views to enter through these linked stories right pair link story so so you do get you know these young women under points of views you know you do get much older characters you know ready for years old and born in nineteen twenties and their point of view in a because partition affected everybody in different different ways and of course then you know there is a lot of risky riding in this you know there are issues off sexuality you know desire almost lot of taboo spaces unspoken almost you know because there are cultural taboos in a way to take homo sexual desire
00:19:38see now you know I was off I think I'm the one with the way the women are represented in this novel are interesting because you know you could see that that they have no agency but they do you know thanks within the first story when I was rereading it she describes Nela at the Young Bride it's a very small scene but she she's looking at a small banana at her wedding day and even though it's a very small act she very surreptitiously grab something and she's like starving and she grabs this banana to feed herself and I think that's what a representative how and circumstances where people are don't have a lot of power how they still show agency is in salsa from son of a cultural reading I'm sure the four more mainstream restaurant in his book Padres a lot of questions about even details like the right was a stomach
00:20:38I'll let you know and foremost Brides maybe they're nervous and they don't eat you know what I think and there's a Desert Vista calamint to it you know which I think is also very very I think a patriarchal uniting many to is the women who act you don't eat up until the point that their Mary do you know so so that's there enough with the red the red sorry that she wears is very symbolic off you know fertility the bed color you know so so there are two cultural little details that she's throwing but I also think that do no talking about the link story The Second Story the merchants wife yes that's the one that has
00:21:26some serious agency going on right right man ray know who is you know it love her she's a servant essentially she escapes to and she she's a servant she is not on the nearest first lover in a serious way only although their relationship was just very short and temporary but she really pushes some cigarettes boundaries there yeah that really surprise me and I would think maybe this was a novel that would be maybe more space to explore that almost happened to quickly in the Second Story we see a character from the first story go on in her life and I think without giving too much away ashy at the very end of the second story we see her moving on to yet another adventure and we don't know what happens after that but we see her
00:22:26once again take her own future into her own hands and she's she's she's gender-bending right she is definitely transgressing not even gender and sexual boundaries she's trespassing National boundaries and also there is a lot of that kind of a acts of transgression and they're going to bring us back maybe to the original question that you ask maybe that's her way to be restored right I think food has the restoration for her maybe the restoration can only happen Beyond those National boundaries because she has to go out you know so yes I think maybe that particular story you know in the first link collection maybe brings that unrestored woman
00:23:20Capital Circle right but they're leaving an ass not knowing as readers yes that's a very interesting frame for the entire book and makes you think about characters and issues of State identity history and time gender yes sir absolutely the very end of that Second Story the merchants mistress that finds array new approaching her her new home
00:23:51she's on a ship
00:23:54and urban came into view she looked at it with pleasure with such like that are heart seem to to swell and the warmth of the wind carried with it the scent of Africa the scent of it soft green endlessness it's cracked roads and flat top trees it's red and lonely Cliffs that baked under the hot sun it smelled of it steaming cities and Dusty Bush it's antique Shores pounded by so many seas hits breathless summer nights she felt like she had been lifted from a previous life and placed here on this ship on the cups of this vast and unknowable continent the interior beckoning her like a moonlit road but those roads would all come later for now renew let the warrant sweep through her and for the fourth and final time she fell in love
00:24:58at 3 Justin speaks with Shelby about her debut certainly capture a lot of elements of sort of The Human Experience during the time of conflict right so not just oppressors or the oppressed or the people that were driven in this room you know state of Mass migration not the Killer is not the killed and I just really wanted to capture the entirety of what was happening on the ground and I really try hard to stay away from questions of you know who perpetrated the greatest crimes or you know what religion was the dominant one
00:25:49extended was just get on the ground with just individual lives as lived during the time of regional National global conflict because that to me those life the ones that are on the ground and that are just sort of in a tested and really Primal ways that was what was most interesting and that sort of getting on the ground with these characters allowed me the Explorer theme so I had been exploring in my writing for many many years and that's you know alienation migration despair loneliness and and you know of course the Redemptive power sometimes a kindness and sometimes violence I mean it just you know it allowed me up a portal through which to explore all kinds of choices and all kinds of Destinies and so I
00:26:49I really tried hard not to pass judgment and that involved exploring all kinds of flies and and that's why I think the many points of views came from your covering a very traumatic event and in many of their stories many of the stories are very dark and I'm wondering as a writer what it was like going into does very dark violent places and if you ever felt like it was too much or how you were able to work with that like knowing it was so heavy I grew up in Central Indiana and for majority of my life not all of it I was born in India but they're growing up in Indiana I I felt I felt like I really had to imagine my way through that adolescents and by that I mean that I
00:27:49there was not too many people that that look like me or and I didn't have very many friends and it was it was a very traditional upbringing a traditional Indian upbringing and so why did for the stories is actually just take the loneliness or the Rage or the sorrow that already lives inside of me and I just went like a thousand times deeper right because because these characters are living through a time of conflict and an incredible incredible violence and so I just really should have looked into that Abyss that I think exist inside all of us right and I just said go deeper go as deep as you can go and it actually was incredibly liberating it was not at all traumatic inside
00:28:49the darker and the deeper I went the more the Freer I felt and it was just it was just like a Russian cold air to go into lives that I just imagined and could place in situations that maybe I touched on in my own apartment and maybe I touched down in my own Consciousness at some point of my life but yeah it was it was a source of incredible replenishment and Beauty for me to go to those places an essay by Alexander Chee about historical fiction and he was talking about his new book that came out and I was wondering do you consider this book historical fiction and then on that note just your thoughts on like what an author responsibility is when it comes to his phone
00:29:49accuracy vs. Ino creative freedom in telling those stories of something that happened in the past yeah that's a good question I'm not sure I would consider a historical fiction and the reason is because maybe just as a virtual how much research I did which is not extensive and the reason I didn't do very much research is because I didn't want to get bogged down and I know my personality and I knew I would get bogged down and understanding like everything about that time or that place and and you know maybe traveling to India and I didn't have the resources to do that so I knew it had to be primarily an active imagination and so I borrowed certainly from my uniform of yours and crying up in India and I left him at the age of 7 to move to United States with my family as I borrow from that and also my visits back to India appetite what I really tried to do is
00:30:49free the characters from the actual sort of conditions of that time because I wanted to lift them out of that moment and I wanted to make it a universal story of migration or are Universal story of conflict and the choices were forced to make during times of and you know it's kind of funny because I actually realized that in one of the stories I had I said that they left from the city of Islamabad in Pakistan in 1947 and I realize I recently that Islamabad didn't exist and I was like oh okay but that speaks to the fact that you know
00:31:46I really tried to take the focus off the factual elements because there's historians for that and I and I really wanted to go very deeply into the individual moments of a person's life certainly in a in a time or see each other in state of Siege and I wanted to make it relevant in today in Syria you know or it's in 1947 in India or Pakistan I wanted to keep that relevance alive no matter what the time that the store is replacing so yeah I I wouldn't say it's historical fiction because my focus wasn't
00:32:28best historical aspect of it it was more character-based and absolutely yeah the first story and unrestored woman and that was the first one you wrote but is there any other story in there that holds a special significance to you over other ones are at the stands out in a way to you well you know they're all sort of my children tell her that but I guess the story curfew grew out of a trip that I took to Florence where I stayed in the monastery and I found in the monastery had a curfew and I find myself running through the streets of Florence trying to make the curfew and so that when you know what kind of special meeting it certainly has her you know experiential meaning for me
00:33:28you know I want to say that all of these stories just really grew out of an intense desire on my part to impart some you know small piece of my heart I mean truly there was a real deepening of my myself in writing these stories and you know so for instance the companion Story 2 and under store woman which is the merchants mistress that story is is you know I've never been to Africa have never killed a man on refugee camp and yet Randy was one of my favorite characters because she is so strong and resilient and she's so creative you know and so do I love her more than Mila that main character in an honest woman absolutely not but do I feel
00:34:28they're both aspects of my own soul that they sort of travel in my blood absolutely both of them all of them and so yeah I wouldn't say anyone story stands out but I do think that all of the story is just are incredible sort of snapshots of the person I hear in to be or the person that stinks inside of me all the time you know so they're very very deeply connected to who I am so yeah I know I would be hard-pressed to pick this is your day be booked and I was wondering if you have any advice for emerging writers out there about what your process was like and what this process of having your first book at AutoZone for all the folks who who who I would say
00:35:28since 1999 and the book is coming out in 2016 so it's not it was not a quick process but I have to say that endurance is our greatest tool you know as as writers like every year that went by every rejection that that I got and you know every day that I sat there and just wrote something that forever just will live on my computer you know all of those moments all of that sort of it was it all boils down to endurance I mean truly I think it's are our greatest currency as writers and we have and we can hold our craft we can practice we can write and we can have talent if such a thing exists
00:36:28but if we don't have endurance I just don't think that you know unless you get you know what the fairytale publication process which happens for Sophie right by my thing just a persevere is is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and and yeah I mean I was writing novels initially and I realized you know maybe I just need to pull back and write shorter pieces that can you know signs for Journal Publications or literary Publications in a magazine for matter Journal format and so that really help me cuz I couldn't instead of sending a big sort of a novel to Enterprise novel to an agent for a publisher I could send smaller pieces to literary journals and that sort of started just sort of small accumulation of Publications Aura publishing credits and but again
00:37:28has backed endurance you know and I think that would be my advice or or you know sort of understanding of how this happened for me is you know through the darkest times I was like this is what I want to do this is all
00:37:47I want to do you know and and I have I have a story to tell and I'm going to keep at it until I can tell it you know and so yeah that would be nice
00:38:19late night debut is a monthly podcast brought to you by late night library where literature never sleeps you can rate tonight's episode And subscribe to our podcast through iTunes subscribers receive free access to every late night library podcast including late night debut pick up a copy of an unrestored woman at your local independent book shop or you can purchase it through the Indie band link on this episodes web page in which case a small portion of your purchase will go to help late night debut I am of course giving away one free copy of the book if you want it email me at Amber at late night library. Org by April 1st with unrestored giveaway in your subject line to an end next month to hear Paul Tran mahogany brown and ocean vuong on vong's gorgeous debut poetry collection night sky with Exit Wounds published by Copper Canyon press and don't forget to go to late night library. Org And subscribe to the L&L book club to receive a gif
00:39:19scrapbook every month and an extra surprise book every other month it's the best way to discover new Authors and support programs like late night debut thanks again to our co-host authors shearston Johnson and reshmi that baller set and to our feature author show by Ral thanks also to Emma Jacobs for production support and Josh bleek's for audio editing if we learn anything tonight maybe it's this for writers and other artists looking into the abyss can be incredibly liberating and can allow them to show us how on the ground and extreme circumstances women especially will find very small ways to survive thanks for listening and most of all for reading talk to you later at late night debut

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