book_shadowMira Jacob(cq) discusses her  novel “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 22 at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW.

By David Steinberg

Mira Jacob’s facility for dialogue, insight into the dynamics of an immigrant family and a command of prose combine to elevate her much-praised new book “The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing” to a wondrous level of storytelling.

Keep in mind it is Jacob’s debut novel, an epic novel that spans generations of a middle-class East Indian family. It traverses different landscapes – India, New Mexico and Seattle – over three decades.

Jacob, a Corrales native, has been living in New York City for many years.

“I’ve been working online a lot, for television, for magazines. About halfway into this novel , my father got cancer and I stopped being able to write,” Jacob said in a phone interview.

The writer-daughter found herself flying  home once a month, sometimes twice a month, to see him and help him “negate all the things about being sick. I couldn’t write at all.”

In fact she stopped writing the novel for three years.

A year after her father, the respected and beloved heart surgeon Philip Jacob – died she pulled the manuscript out.

The novel’s father-character – he’s a brain surgeon named Thomas Eapen(cq) – took shape but he was different than her late father. Yet every time she worked on the book, she wrote into the character mannerisms that were her father’s.

“The things that happen to the character didn’t happen to my dad. And I just decided to go with it. It was incredibly freeing because I missed him so much,” Jacob said.

She said her husband, filmmaker Jed Rothstein, told her, “So what if it turns into your father!”

it was important to her that the mother, Kamala, and brother, Akhil,(cq both) were different than her own family. The novel is told through the voice of the daughter Amina, who is a photographer in Seattle and returns to the family home to try to help her father who is conversing with dead relatives. Amina realizes that she can help but only by probing the family’s past.

The family in the novel is structured on her own but with very few of the same kind of struggles.

Jacob wanted to write this epic, multi-generational story with a strong Southwest

setting – New Mexico in the 1980s – because of what she had noticed: “There were books that were generously developed on the East Coast experience of East Indians … but very few about us who lived in the desert. There’s a pretty vibrant Indian community in New Mexico. I thought we were invisible out here.”

Jacob graduated from Albuquerque Academy in 1991. She attended Smith College but graduated from Oberlin with an undergraduate degree in creative writing and then received a master’s in fine arts from the New School(cq), also in creative writing.

While in grad school she founded Pete’s Reading Series in the back room at a Brooklyn bar, Pete’s Candy Store. “The writing life is really lonely and I wanted to give writers a place to come and have their work heard and celebrated,” Jacob said.

You can visit David Steinberg’s blog nmreviewofbooks.wordpress.com

 

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