YOU HAVE GIVEN ME A COUNTRY
-Winner of the American Book Award.
-ForeWord Book of the Year. Gold Medal. Essay category.
-Independent Book Publisher’s Award (IPPY). Silver Medal. Multicultural fiction.
-Honor Book. Asian/Pacific American Literature Award. Nonfiction category.
-Honor Book. Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. Prose category.
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Author Asks/Writing Exercises 2010 Titles (Teaching tool)
You Have Given Me a Country is a mixed-genre exploration of blurred borders, identity, and what it means to be bicultural. Combining memoir, history, and fiction, the book follows the paths of the author’s Irish-Catholic mother and Sindhi-Indian father on their journey towards each other and the biracial child they create. Vaswani’s second full-length work thematically echoes such books as The Color of Water, Running in the Family, or Motiba’s Tattoos, but is entirely unique in approach, voice, and story, The book reveals the self as a culmination of all that went before it, a new weave of two varied, yet ultimately universal backgrounds that spans continents, generations, languages, wars, and, at the center of it all, family.
With her fiercely beautiful memoir, You Have Given Me a Country, Neela Vaswani takes her place among other great innovators of form—Aleksandar Hemon, Maxine Hong Kingston, Michael Ondaatje—who write eloquently and ardently about the land of in-between. Vaswani’s extraordinary, inimitable book is part tender love letter to her Sindhi-Indian father and her Irish-Catholic mother and part razor-sharp, history-rich exploration of multicultural identity. What is most striking of all, perhaps, is the portrait that emerges of a keenly observant, big-hearted writer with talent to burn.
—Maud Casey, author of Genealogy
So beautifully written. A lucid, recollected dream of wrenching change, violence, loss, and most of all love hard-gained and clung to across cultures, generations. Neela Vaswani writes as if she’s lived all these lives. Her sentences are as powerfully precise and startling as the best lyric poetry. Yet finally it is the people, their stories and voices, and the places they define, defining Vaswani’s own life as well, that ground it all. This book is a wonder, a whole world.
—Brad Watson, National Book Award Finalist and author of Aliens in the Prime of their Lives
Mesmerizing and poetic, You Have Given Me a Country is a vital meditation on the spaces that connect one family and divide it, and on the intimate travels one young woman takes between cultures, continents, emotional landmarks, and historical milestones. Pitch-perfect, this memoir reaffirms Vaswani as an international author of distinctive voice and undeniable importance.
—Chandra Prasad, editor of Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience
“Hope, humor and an indomitable spirit fill these pages, and by book’s end, three heroes have emerged: Vaswani’s parents, who defied the cultural, religious and societal norms of their time and instilled in Vaswani a love and appreciation of story; and Vaswani herself, brave enough to ‘pledge allegiance to the in-between.’”
“The lyrical prose style of the book is a love poem to her family. Though Vaswani’s story is steeped in difference, it also embraces the similarities shared with those around her. This book is part history, part memoir, and part social commentary. At the heart of all its pieces is the story of family, and how love can hold it together in the face of obstacles.”
“A novelist’s eye…an essayist’s expansive directness…a memoirist’s ear….Vaswani’s heritage includes multiple strands of heartbreak; at the center stand her parents, practical and humorous, dedicated to her and the life they made together, with their radical marriage as its beginning…What I loved about Vaswani’s book, in addition to the strength of her prose and the beauty of her descriptions, was that it didn’t fit a pattern or confine itself to one kind of form…the book as a whole exemplified a devotion to story as a way of creating a world and giving oneself a firm place to stand.”
“By deliberately framing her story as a ‘mixed-genre memoir’ (which is to say a lived history, but one that refuses to claim perfect allegiance to fact), Vaswani makes a contribution to the contemporary debate about trauma, memory, and narrative…. Vaswani’s prose is spare and vivid and her characters richly human. In this series of carefully chosen, effortlessly linked memories, she tells the histories, the romances, and the tragedies of her own family’s dance with diaspora, exile, homeland, immigration, identity, and dignity.”
“In You Have Given Me A Country, Vaswani turns to beauty and love as the powers that transcend category. It’s this idea of juxtapositions sewn together with histories and experiences that challenge the limitations of language and identity to which we’re all intrinsically tied. It’s this that holds this beautiful account of personal identity together, too.”
“Neela Vaswani’s memoir You Have Given Me a Country is a powerful, socially relevant book about the personal search for identity as a biracial person. Beautifully written, the book shares Vaswani’s personal history as well as her parents’ with a keen eye for detail and poetic elegance.”
“In the academic realm where often the head is foremost and heart and soul are lacking, Neela brings both and lots of both—heart and soul. Her prose has the richness of poetry.”
—Write With Your Spine
WHERE THE LONG GRASS BENDS Buy the book
Fervent. Lyrical. Animistic. Incantatory… . Where the Long Grass Bends succumbs to no summary. This debut collection of stories is boundless, even boundary-less, because Neela Vaswani has, as David Garnett said of Virginia Woolf, “a mind that sticks at nothing.” In whirling, catch-me-if-you-can prose, Vaswani tells stories that subvert conventional narrative forms by employing Indian lore (from Hindu to Sufi), Gaelic fable, and historical legend. These are impossible tales, dreaming yet mired in the everyday grit of ordinary life, and told so beautifully that the beginnings and endings of reality and imagination disappear. Spare, fierce, and absolutely unpredictable, Where the Long Grass Bends is a delight of invention and language. Easy to hold onto but impossible to pin down, each story is an act of surrender, a folkloric revision similar to the achievements of Salman Rushdie, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Angela Carter, but unlike anything you’ve ever read.
A wonderfully intelligent collection, at once contemporary and magical. Vaswani’s voice is witty, sharp, innovative, and unique.
—Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of One Amazing Thing
Fierce and bold, these beautiful stories provide a highly kinetic exploration of sames and difference in terms of ethnic and racial origin. Through a romp of language—vital, outrageous, unpredictable—the fireworks of Neela Vaswani’ genius cast shadows and illumine psyches. Vaswani’s characters embrace their fates through such rigorous birthing that what has been internal finally contains and defines them.
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife
The stories in Where the Long Grass Bends comprise an uncanny and beautiful symphony. This is a luminous collection where each fiction evolves its own mythology. I want to live in the world of these stories just as I am afraid of this beautiful and often dark world. Neela Vaswani’s Where the Long Grass Bends is lovely, strange, lyrical, and full of true mystery.
—Victoria Redel, author of Loverboy
“Vaswani’s unflinching eye shows the reader the beauty grounded in the mundane.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“[T]he stories of Where the Long Grass Bends enter places both marvelous and gratifying….Vaswani promises to become one of the most versatile writers of her generation.”
“Vaswani shows impressive range and a striking command of poetic imagery.”
“Surprising juxtapositions in content and in style abound… . An artist of the figurative, Vaswani is as skillful at description as Annie Dillard and as lean and economical as E. B. White.”
“Vaswani brings a refreshing new voice and perspective to the burgeoning field of South Asian American writing.”
“Vaswani is not afraid to take risks, although, by the end of each story, we realize she’s not taking risks at all; she’s merely telling the story as it absolutely must be told. … an eclectic collection that’s filled with powerful storytelling and poetic language.”
—The Florida Review
“This debut short story collection brings to life a sometimes fantastical group of characters whose experiences, countries, ethnicities, genders, and time frames widely range…. [T]he stories’ strength lies in the author’s gift for compelling, unusual yarns and excellent, zinging hooks.”
“Where the Long Grass Bends is a pastiche of stories so different from one another and so intelligent, the reader may come to believe that Vaswani, if not yet a master of different styles and genres, is certainly on her way to becoming one.
In these thirteen stories, Vaswani shows her incredible talent for folklore and the blending of perspectives, especially one’s perception of identity. The daughter of an Indian father and a mother with her roots in Ireland, Vaswani seems to have come away with the best of both worlds: a strong tradition of storytelling with no neat endings, and, in fact, often subverting traditionally held notions of who one is and where one comes from.”
“One key theme throughout the collection is that of identity or, more precisely, identities, as characters struggle to navigate and appreciate their multiple ethnicities. In “Bing-Chen,” Neela Vaswani weaves a tight, powerful tale about a young man with a Chinese mother and an absent German American father having his haircut in Chinatown. As with many of these affecting stories, what seems a simple endeavor — in this instance a haircut — turns out to contain myriad complexities. The protagonist has two names, Bing-Chen and David; he embodies at least two ethnicities: “Sometimes people could not tell he was Chinese; other times it was all they saw”; he yearns to be like the girls getting their hair done, or the Chinese girl cutting hair, all three wholly “one thing” and not, like him, divided into parts. An author comment follows each story, illuminating his or her biography, the story or both. Vaswani writes how as a young girl she, Indian and Irish, ached to “have what I mistakenly perceived as the stability of being ‘one thing.’ I felt the insipid social pressure, the myth that to be of two cultures is to be somehow confused.”
—San Francisco Gate Review