Arushi Raina on When Morning Comes


Photo © Nidhi Raina

Meet Arushi Raina, Canadian author of When Morning Comes, a YA historical novel set in South Africa at the time of the Soweto student uprising. I had a chance to trade emails with Arushi about writing in multiple voices, fiction vs. life, and the power of the children’s and YA writing community.
[Uma] What made you choose to tell this story the way you did–in multiple voices, and aimed at young readers?
[Arushi] More often than not, these artistic choices emerge when I realize the story I want to tell, in a pretty organic, or intuitive way. Some of this choice traces back to my growing up in South Africa, living with the narrative instability of a place that had just come out of apartheid and the diverse, often conflicting perspectives that different racial groups, genders, had in South Africa in the late 1990s. I grew up in a time when South Africa, and its people were trying to make sense of what, indeed Mandela’s “Rainbow Nation” would be, and what to make of this country’s traumatic past.
And so no story I could tell of South Africa, could have one “true” narrator. At every point Jack, Zanele, Thabo and Meena’s perspectives interact, conflict, and grow from eachother. The plot, if you look closely, is solely based on the characters interactions from eachother, and the tensions between their different perspectives.
whenmorningcomes[Uma] You have said about this book, “To make it real, emotionally, I needed to fictionalize it.” Tell me what that means to you—what power does fiction hold for you?
[Arushi] I learned about the Soweto Uprising in Grade 10 History class in Johannesburg. At that time, that was maybe what I needed, understanding the facts, the first hand accounts, trying to put the timeline together, connect it with our school visits into Soweto, the Apartheid Museum. At the same time, however, non-fiction can have the affect of distancing us from the story. We are concerned about facts and objectivity – but sometimes these aspects cannot be experienced or felt. We are not following the path of a living, breathing person, in the way we typically access non-fiction. There are some exceptions, of course. Fiction, though, is very freeing. I am not trying to stick to the facts, only, to be objective. Instead, I’m trying to hit on a far more difficult thing – the emotional truth of the story, of the different stories and points of view that are in this story. How can I come to this emotional truth, with the tools I have in my hands?
[Uma] Grade 10 history class. That’s quite a timeline. Thank you for sharing that.
[Arushi] Thank you so much, as a writer yourself, for showcasing and supporting other writers. Its a small but mighty world, and I so appreciate your time, thoughtfulness and perspective.
[Uma] It’s my delight! But your comment leads me to another question. Generally, in the marketplaces of the real world, we think in terms of competition. Businesses that produce similar good or services compete with one another. In some ways, of course, that is true of writing and publishing as well. But writing is also an art and it’s a solitary pursuit. We spend quite a lot of time, let’s face it, talking to imaginary people. We’re at the mercy of our own minds! In that context, what does that notion of community mean to you? How do we participate in our literary marketplaces while still viewing other writers as community rather than competition?
[Arushi] For me, one of the most magical things that happened when I got published, was getting to meet other writers, and experiencing the kindness and generosity of writers, particularly children’s writers. I cannot even count the number of authors who have shared so much of their time, and supported me through my debut year. Some shout outs would include: RJ Anderson, Robin Stevenson, Adwoa Badoe, Rachel Hartman.
What I realized, really early on, is that writers are the best support for writers. And there’s a business rationale for this too: we live in a world where the literary marketplace is shrinking and consolidating. There are now a smaller percentage of diehard readers who read a lot. There are fewer publishing houses. You realize very early (particularly if you’re with a small publishing house) that other writers are going to be your biggest supports, your encouragement, the ones that shout out your work. In this way, they draw their readers to your work.  As a collective of writers, we’re trying to get everyone to buy and read more books, not to compete for a reader’s specific attention. The advice I give to writers who haven’t published yet is to build that support system of writing friends early on.
[Uma] Very true. I’m grateful myself to my book collective. Good luck and good writing, Arushi Raina!

Music Carries an Orphan’s Story in The Flute by Rachna Gilmore


From The Flute by Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Pulak Biswas. Tradewind Books, 2011

The flowing lines and strong contrasts of the late and much-beloved Pulak Biswas‘s illustrations dramatize this orphan tale from Rachna Gilmore.

Gilmore first brought stories of an Indian immigrant family to young Canadian and American readers with her Gita books. Biswas, a veteran of Indian publishing and an associate of the legendary cartoonist, philanthropist and publishing guru K. Shankar Pillai, illustrated the wonderfully playful Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar. So for me, The Flute is a continuation of familiar rhythms, echoes of a lifetime spent crossing from India to North America and back again.

In many ways, it’s a classic orphan’s tale. When we meet her, young Chandra is a baby, delighted and soothed by the sound of her mother’s flute.

She played of shimmering hot days and the richness of the earth. She played of the cool evening sky and the growing promise of the moon.

But Chandra’s parents are swept away in a flood, and she’s taken in reluctantly by a cruel aunt and uncle. The flute, worn smooth by her mother’s hands, represents her only connection with happier times.

Gilmore turns the flute into a magically endowed object, so that its music and the river seem to blend, channeling the emotions of those who listen. When the flute is lost, Chandra is plunged into truly bleak times.

She did her best to keep her mother’s songs alive by whistling the tunes, but sometimes she couldn’t remember them.

The season shrinks the river to a trickle, compounding the loss and serving as an artful metaphor for Chandra’s own hunger, pain, and grief. It’s deftly executed, so that when the magic turns longing to hope,  the story turn is light and mirrored by the blue renewal of the river on the right hand side of the spread.

I found a nicely Indian sensibility as well in the omission of a final, omniscient delivery of justice to the evildoers–which is, after all, what one might expect from a story with some motifs similar to those of European Cinderella stories. Instead, the aunt and uncle are simply distracted and move right off the page, leaving Chandra to proceed, surviving still greater dangers in her path, until she arrives at a final, happy resolution. The lyrical text is imbued with energy by the sweeping illustrations, much as the river bestows magic upon the music of the flute.