What sparked Lucky Girls?
After I graduated from college, I got a job teaching English in Bangkok. From there I went to India for the first time, and fell in love a bit. I went back to Delhi the following summer and lived in a strange apartment on Pandara Road, with a particularly memorable landlady.
Once I was home in New York again, I found myself missing that time in Delhi in particular. I was working in an office, and in the mornings before work I started writing the first story in this book, “Lucky Girls.” I had always thought that I couldn’t write a story set in India – maybe I thought an American couldn’t write about India.
Once I started, of course, I realized that I wasn’t writing about India, but about being an American; for whatever reason, it wasn’t until I went to Asia that I began to think about what that meant.
When did you first realise you wanted to write fiction?
I wrote stories and poems and things in high school. I was always a very enthusiastic reader of fiction, but until I got to college I insisted that I wanted to be a doctor. My father is a writer, and when I was a child, he often seemed to be drinking coffee or volunteering for chores around the house – anything but sitting in his office. It didn’t look like any fun to me.
And what did you do before you started writing?
My first job was cocktail waitressing at an Irish bar/Caribbean restaurant in Boston. I taught English in Bangkok and then in New Delhi, and worked for two years as an editorial assistant at the New Yorker magazine.
What are you working on now?
A novel that takes place in Los Angeles, where I grew up.
Please could you tell us about what’s on your bookshelf? The old stuff, the unread stuff, the favourite books, the passing enthusiasm …
I put the great people up on the top of the shelf (they belong there, and it’s furthest from the radiator). George Eliot is very important to me. Jane Austen and In Search of Lost Time are up there with her.
Also great (but alive) people who take up space include Grace Paley, Alice Munro, Ha Jin, Norman Rush, Peter Carey, V.S. Naipaul, A.L. Kennedy, Cormac McCarthy, and Ian McEwan. I have a lot of travel guides, and a shelf of non-fiction about India and China.
These days I’ve been looking at contemporary Chinese art books; I just got a copy of the rare and beautiful Rong Rong’s East Village as a gift. Marvell, John Ashbery, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath and Glyn Maxwell are some favorite poets.
As a teenager I loved John Irving and Chaim Potok; I still have all of their books. Also lots of copies of the Paris Review and Granta.
Is there one book by a woman (that isn’t eligible for this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction) that you’d like to recommend to website visitors?
I loved A.L. Kennedy’s So I Am Glad. And more recently, Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.
Why that book?
The pace is slow, but Lahiri’s not a cautious writer. She takes a risk in trusting the reader to be patient. She expects something of us, I guess. Her characters don’t seem like “characters.” After you’re finished, you find yourself thinking about them, as if they were people you knew whose lives were still going along somewhere.