On Sept. 22, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course debuted Sept. 22 with Padma Viswanathan reading from her latest book, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.
Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, is the second novel by the Canadian author. It has been published in Canada, the USA, India and Australia. In Canada, it was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a national bestseller. Viswanathan’s debut novel, The Toss of a Lemon, was published in eight countries, a bestseller in three, and a finalist for the Commonwealth (Regional) First Book Prize, the Amazon.ca First Novel Prize and the Pen Center USA Fiction Prize.
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao revolves around the Air India bombing of 1985. During her presentation for the Canadian Writers in Person series, the writer explained that in its conception, “this was going to be a novel that explored the religious devotion of a man whose family is quite skeptical of his choices.”
The focus of the story changed, she said, to give a more concrete context to the spiritual journey that the central character Seth undergoes. In the aftermath of the Air India bombing, he turns to a religious guru and a community that appear to give him the emotional and spiritual support he craves. The Air India bombing becomes the catalyst for this spiritual search.
Ashwin Rao, the main narrator of the book, is a psychologist who embarks on a project of interviewing people who have lost loved ones in the Air India bombing. But in the process of talking to his subjects, some of them become much more than that to him, and to us, as we become privy to their family dynamics, and their emotional and spiritual journeys.
In the conversation that followed the reading, Viswanathan explained that she did not want to sensationalize the Air India bombing of 1985 as a lone act of terrorism, but to contextualize it so that we can understand it better and prevent history from repeating itself.
The author engaged in a very dynamic and stimulating dialogue with the audience about these historical events and trauma. She also talked about the writing process, and the many drafts the novel went through before reaching publication. In telling her own story of the writing process, she provided the audience with an intimate view of the process by which an idea grows and evolves and changes into a sophisticated novel.
The writing process is something that differs from person to person and even sometimes from one project to the next, said the author. Viswanathan explained that she often works on several ideas at once, and that the most productive time of the day for her is in the very early mornings, in the quiet before her family and the rest of the world awake. Canadian-born Viswanathan now lives and works in Arkansas. There, she writes in a study in the attic of her house, on a hilltop overlooking a valley, with the university campus in the distance.
The Canadian Writers in Person series features every year 11 Canadian authors who present their work, respond to questions from the audience and sign books. In addition to the Viswanathan, Kim Thuy, author of Mãn, presented a reading on Oct. 6.
This year’s lineup features:
- Oct. 20: Frances Itani, Tell
- Nov. 3: Greg Hollingshead, Act Normal
- Nov. 17: Sean Michaels, Us Conductors
- Dec. 1: Lee Maracle, Celia’s Song
- Jan. 12: Heather O’Neill, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
- Jan. 26: Gregory Scofield, Louis: The Heretic Poems
- Feb. 9: Colin McAdam, A Beautiful Truth
- March 1: Sue Goyette, Ocean
- March 15: Aisha Sasha John, Thou
All readings are part of a degree credit course on Canadian literary culture offered by the Culture & Expression Program in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Readings are free and open to any member of the public. Readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.