Creating new worlds: Interview with novelist and playwright Anosh Irani
Novelist and playwright Anosh Irani comes from a family of Iranian descent in Mumbai, India, and moved to Vancouver in 1998 as a student to pursue his Master’s degree in Creative Writing. He has published critically acclaimed and award-winning novels including: The Cripple and His Talismans, The Song of Kahunsha, Dahanu Road and The Parcel. His plays have been very well-received and won numerous awards and nominations. He has recently released a new collection of short stories: Translated From the Gibberish: Seven Stories and One Half Truth. Irani’s short stories have appeared in Granta and the Los Angeles Review of Books, and his nonfiction has been published in The Globe and Mail and The New York Times. His work has been translated into eleven languages. He teaches Creative Writing in the World Literature Program at Simon Fraser University and lives in Vancouver, BC.
How has moving to a new country impacted your journey as a writer?
My move helped me become a writer. I was tried, tested, and squeezed with such intensity, there was so much pressure and claustrophobia, that my learning curve as a writer was quick. The separation from my homeland, and then the slow realization that perhaps I might not have one anymore, made me write with urgency. I also started reading a lot. Canada made me go inward, it made me read.
What I like most about being a writer is that I can create worlds that are both disturbing and human. I carefully calibrate the chaos that exists in reality, by turning it into narrative. This transfer of disturbance is what will hopefully inspire readers to go on their own search.
You have lived in Canada for about two decades now. How has your immigrant background helped you as a writer?Somehow, I have always been an outsider. Even in India, the country of my birth, I am a minority as I am Zoroastrian – my grandfather was from Iran. So, movement seems to be a constant thing in my family. Migration takes its toll on the mind and body for sure, and has a ripple effect across generations. It is challenging, but also beautiful. Any form of struggle opens you up as a human being and allows you to have empathy, which is essential if you want to write.
Your latest book, ‘Translated From the Gibberish’ does focus on people caught “in translation” between two worlds. Tell us about the book and how you came up with the idea.
The search for home – it’s centuries old, it’s very primal. Whether these characters are in Mumbai, or Vancouver, they are displaced. They don’t feel at home even when some of them are in the place of their birth. So, what does home really mean? Is it even necessary? I’m exploring the different connotations of home. Home as the body, home as grief, home as escape, and so on.
I felt the need to write short stories as my 20th year of being in this country closed in on me. I found myself needing to explore the aftermath of my move. I’d say that Canada oozed out of me in the form of a short story. The “Translation” is the gap between what you expect/hope for, and what actually happens to an immigrant.
Can you share your best moment or a special memory about Canada?
It has been a process. It’s hard to pick out one moment. Maybe the time my editor handed me my first novel, The Cripple and His Talismans…I held it in my hands and thought, “Maybe the move has been worth it.” But those moments dissipate very quickly. And you can’t depend on them for your survival. They are fleeting.
What do you enjoy about being Canadian?
That I get to go back to India. And once I’m there, I long to come back here.
Any words of wisdom you would like to share with aspiring writers?
You need endurance to succeed. The talent is a given. But talent, without stamina, won’t help you create a body of work. The writer’s journey is a marathon. Think of a body of literature that you will create over time.
What is your advice to newcomers to Canada?
Make sure you do your research before coming.