Debut fiction attempts to break misconceptions about America

Stories about lives of Indians settled in America form the body of a debut fiction by Chitra Viraraghavan, who attempts to provide a glimpse into issues of identity, cultural isolation and geographical dislocation.

“You are no one in America without a car. Public transport is an issue in that country. It is still available in bigger cities but if you were to visit Louisville, you ought to have your car,” says Viraraghavan.

Viraraghavan says she hit upon the idea of writing “The Americans: A Novel” in 2008 while she was researching the Indian American Fiction for her doctorate. Her novel is set in 5 different US cities — Boston, Chicago, Kentucky and Louisville.

“One character in my book connects eleven different stories. There is action, magic realism, an energetic old person who has power and there is also an autistic person. The book also has a character that comes in only through journal entries in her English class. So it makes it a fun read,” says Viraraghavan.

The author says she titled her book as a tribute to “The Americans (1877)”, a novel by American author Henry James.

“Henry, in his book, has raised questions about what is it to be an American. My book is about what is America for Indians. I have carefully chosen that name so that it does not look like a sociological study and adding ‘a novel’ makes sure that no one sues me for the title,” Viraraghavan says with a laugh.

The author, who has worked as an editor at the Oxford University Press, Chennai, says her first attempt at fiction is also for someone who has never been to America and can attempt to get a glimpse of the life there.

She talks about varied Indian cuisines in her book. She describes the spread of mixed cuisines in Indian weddings.

“I either want to have a complete South Indian food or North India but this mixture, I don’t like. I want a homogeneous meal and not a mixed spread,” says Viraraghavan.

The author claims that her work is a complete fiction that children and adults can enjoy.
“Like me a character in my book goes to America for higher studies but the dramatic elements are so dramatic that it can only be possible in fiction,” says Viraraghavan.

Incidentally Viraraghavan is the great granddaughter of the country’s second President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

“I don’t know who got this out but I tell this to everyone that I am one of the 21 great grand daughters of Radhakrishnan. But being interested in academics comes naturally to me, since my family was always associated with it,” the author says.

Viraraghavanm, who has also written school textbooks and had been a teacher of English also plans of writing some non-fiction but clarifies not about her great grandfather.

“There is already well written books on him. I don’t want to tamper with it. I was too young and don’t even have enough memories to write a book on Radhakrishnan,” the author says.

Next up on the Viraraghavan is a collection of short stories and says she has started “thinking about her second novel.”

The author hails from a family of novel writers, which includes her husband Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, who has also illustrated the cover of her book

“His first novel, ‘Ice boys and Bell-bottoms’ came in 2011 and the second one, ‘Jump Cut’ in 2013. He designs the cover of his books,” says the author.

Meanwhile, Viraraghavan’s novel published by HarperCollins is now available at book stores here as well as online.