Skip to content

Drunk on Ink Q & A with Thrity Umrigar and “The Secrets Between Us”

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan 

Read Jaggery Issue 11 Spring 2018

Thrity Umrigar is the author of a memoir, a picture book and eight novels, including The Space Between Us, The Secrets Between Us and Everybody’s Son.  Her books have been published in over fifteen countries.  She is the recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard and is a professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

About The Secrets Between Us

Bhima, the unforgettable main character of Thrity Umrigar’s beloved national bestseller The Space Between Us, returns in this sequel in which the former servant struggles against the circumstances of class and misfortune to forge a new path for herself and her granddaughter in modern India.Poor and illiterate, Bhima had faithfully worked for the Dubash family, an upper-middle-class Parsi household, for more than twenty years. Yet after courageously speaking the truth about a heinous crime perpetrated against her own family, the devoted servant was cruelly fired. The sting of that dismissal was made more painful coming from Sera Dubash, the temperamental employer who had long been Bhima’s only confidante. A woman who has endured despair and loss with stoicism, Bhima must now find some other way to support herself and her granddaughter, Maya. Bhima’s fortunes take an unexpected turn when her path intersects with Parvati, a bitter, taciturn older woman. The two acquaintances soon form a tentative business partnership, selling fruits and vegetables at the local market. As they work together, these two women seemingly bound by fate grow closer, each confessing the truth about their lives and the wounds that haunt them. Discovering her first true friend, Bhima pieces together a new life, and together, the two women learn to stand on their own.

Soniah Kamal: First author/book you read/fell in love with?

Thrity Umrigar: East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Wine, baby.

A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading?

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

One Hundred Years of Solitude. I couldn’t understand it as a teenager, so I gave up reading it, back then.

Favorite quote from your book

Or perhaps it is that time doesn’t heal wounds at all, perhaps that is the biggest lie of them all, and instead what happens is that each would penetrates the body deeper and deeper until one day you fine that the sheer geography of your bones, the angle of your hips, the sharpness of your shoulders– as well as the luster of your eyes, the texture of your skin, the openness of your smile, has collapsed under the weight of your grief–

from The Space Between Us

Favorite book to film? And why?

Q&A, which became Slumdog Millionaire. Because it was one of those rare occasions where the film was better than the book.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

Loganberry Books in Cleveland; Powell’s in Portland; Book Passage in Marin County, California.

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

That people like me—female, brown, immigrant–could tell stories and didn’t have to ask someone’s permission in order to do so.  And that everyone has a story to tell but most people get distracted by other things in life and so their stories remain untold.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

No. I still love the writing part.  But the publishing and marketing doesn’t get any easier because publishers want the new, the young, the undiscovered.  And more and more, writers are expected to market their own books on social media etc. so that you’re forever begging the same fifty friends to please buy your book.  It’s hard and embarrassing.

Dog, Cat, Or?

Cat. But all animals, really.

Ideal vacation?

Any city with bookstores, sidewalk cafes, and museums that’s on the water.

Favorite book cover?

Love the classic “billboard” jacket from The Great Gatsby.

Favorite song?

A Day in the Life by The Beatles

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Favorite memory is when an Indian reader, who was temporarily in the U.S., came to a book talk and pulled me aside and told me about the time she’d dismissed her maid in India after she caught her stealing a bottle of milk.  After she read my novel, The Space Between Us, she said the novel changed her life.  She had sought me out specifically to tell me that she’d resolved that when she returned to India, she would provide food and milk for the new maid’s children everyday.  That’s the first time I realized the power of words to change hearts.

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

Unbridled Books publishes some great books.

Last impulse book buy and why?

Look At Me by Jennifer Egan because I love Jenny’s work but had never read this particular book.

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS