Interview with Namrata Patel

The Book

Namrata Patel’s writing “recipe” blends complex heroines, Gujarati food, and global families—a meal in three delicious courses. I have sampled several of Nam’s unpublished manuscripts, as well as her home cooking, and they have all been delicious—but it is her published debut, The Candid Life of Meena Dave, that is the book feast you have been waiting for.

A woman embarks on an unexpected journey into her past in an engrossing novel about identity, family secrets, and rediscovering the need to belong. Meena Dave is a photojournalist and a nomad. She has no family, no permanent address, and no long-term attachments, preferring to observe the world at a distance through the lens of her camera. But Meena’s solitary life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly inherits an apartment in a Victorian brownstone in historic Back Bay, Boston. Though Meena’s impulse is to sell it and keep moving, she decides to use her journalistic instinct to follow the story that landed her in the home of a stranger. It’s a mystery that comes with a series of hidden clues, a trio of meddling Indian aunties, and a handsome next-door neighbor. For Meena it’s a chance for newfound friendships, community, and culture she never thought possible. And a window into her past she never expected. Now as everything unknown to Meena comes into focus, she must reconcile who she wants to be with who she really is.
Get your own copy at a bookstore near you.

The Candid Life of Meena Dave is available for pre-order now on Amazon, Audible, and elsewhere. It will be released on June 1, 2022, by Lake Union Publishing. It is marketed as women’s and Asian American fiction, not romance, but there is an achingly perfect love interest. (And I think you’ll love Sam as much as I do!)

The Interview

Thank you, Nam, for coming here to the History Ever After blog. I am going to be geeking out on history with my questions, but that won’t surprise you or anyone else.

1. What inspired you to write Meena’s story?

It was the early days of the pandemic, and we were all trying to navigate this unknown event in our lives. For many of us, we were doing it alone. Overnight, our world shrunk to what was within the four walls. And we were all experiencing some of the same in terms of living inside versus out. For me, I wanted to write about things that I couldn’t quite resolve. This story came from that, especially around what does “community” mean? I used to define that word very broadly in terms of cultural identity, ethnicity, professional networks, family, friends—a catch-all for the people in my life. During the early days of isolation, the scope of that definition changed, narrowed. Through that, this story was born. What if a person felt alone in the world because they define community in a very narrow and perhaps literal sense (e.g. family)? What would it take for them to notice that you can build one, be invited, and find a sense of belonging? Usually what helps inspire a story is something that I’m trying to work through myself.

Boston Back Bay brownstone houses.
Setting of The Candid Life of Meena Dave: the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, as photographed by Rick Berk from the 33rd Floor of the Hancock Tower.

2. Can you tell us a little of the history that inspired the Engineer’s House?

Oh my gosh, yes! I’ve always been fascinated by my Gujarati American identity and history. Growing up, I was only exposed to it by my parents who told stories about their lives—my father was born right before the Partition, so he’d lived under British rule of India for a bit. I didn’t get much of that in history classes, which are usually taught through an American and/or western lens, even world history.

In college and later grad school, I leaned into diaspora, dual-cultural identity creation, and anything that helped me understand my place in this country. Most of what I’d learned was generalized desi American experiences. Post grad school, I continued to stay current through non-fiction books and academic papers. 

A few years ago, I learned about Ross Bassett, a history professor who cataloged every Indian graduate of MIT from the beginning to 2000. He published a paper MIT-Trained Swadeshis: MIT and Indian Nationalism, 1880–1947. When I read through it, a short paper by academic standards, I was floored. It was a part of my history that I never knew. Over a 100 Gujrati Indians came to MIT and studied here before the Partition in order to go back to India and rebuild its infrastructure. I tried to learn as much about them as possible, but there wasn’t a lot. Most of my hyphenated history is around the major immigration of Indians and other desis in the eighties and nineties. This was well before that.

Photo from the Economic Times of India's article, "How Gandhi's India created Indian techie & how at least 100 of them received degrees from MIT before 1947."
Photo from the Economic Times of India’s article, “How Gandhi’s India created Indian techie & how at least 100 of them received degrees from MIT before 1947.”

I kept thinking of what it must have been like for them, to be brown, to not have access to their familiar culture like food, language, ability to worship, and all that gives us a sense of community. 

That’s when the premises of the Engineer’s House emerged for me. What if there were (fictional, of course), a few who were the constants? What if two or three desi men—they were all men by the way—stayed to welcome each new class and wave off those who graduated? Then they built families here, stayed on, and assimilated to America. Each subsequent generation that followed had more of a connection and a sense of place to this country than India. 

So I created the Engineer’s House as a place where they would have lived, became hyphenated, and lived communally. One reason, of several, I chose to set the house in the Back Bay area of Boston is because this is still a very white space historically, and I wanted to put a brown community within it because these aunties had come from wealth in India and continued to live as such by building their own status and wealth here. 

I’ll stop here—but as you can imagine, I can talk about this for pages!

3. I know from personal experience that you are a talented Gujarati cook. Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite dishes in the book?

I had fun thinking about food in this novel. One thing that happens to food when immigrants move to a new place is fusion—it’s not just for chefs. Women (mainly) create with what’s available, and the original traditional diet/cuisine evolves as part of assimilation.

My mom does this. I grew up eating desi lasagna which has cumin, coriander, and other traditional spices. Tomato soup came out of a can, but then was mixed with veggies and spices to change the flavor. 

So I kept thinking, how and what would the aunties have learned—especially from parents and grandparents who brought spices over in suitcases because Patel Brothers wasn’t a thing yet? That’s where tandoori turkey and fish curry came from. Gujaratis are agrarian and vegetarian, but in the States, we’ve assimilated. I mean I love a good steak once in a while! So the aunties doctored up Thanksgiving and made it their own. 

I will say the scene with the sabudana kichdi is my favorite because that is a traditional dish that has stayed the same for generations. As with a lot of desi cuisine, each family makes it their own, and this is my mother’s recipe. However, NYT Cooking offered up one a few years ago, which comes close. I wanted to make sure the book conveyed what changed and what was kept, culturally, via food.

Authentic Gujarati style of sabudana khichdi.
Authentic Gujarati style of sabudana khichdi featured on JCO Cooking Odyssey.

4. Is your second book a part of this same world? Have we met any of the characters yet?

No. The second book is a stand-alone about a perfumer who loses her sense of smell and actively tries to get it back. In the process, she learns how to adapt and discovers that you can have more than one passion. It’s set in northern California and also examines the history of Indian hotel owners in the US.

A big thank you to Namrata Patel for answering my pesky questions. And grab your copy of The Candid Life of Meena Dave today.

People are talking about Sugar Moon!

Sugar-Moon-review-five-stars-read-fast

The live tweeting has begun! Thank you to author Mina V. Esguerra and book blogger/podcaster Kat from BookThingo for sharing their reactions to Sugar Moon:

Mina’s Live tweet thread on Sugar Moon

Kat’s Live tweet thread on Sugar Moon

And thank you to all those reading and talking about Ben and Allegra:

medieval-chivalry-baseball-sugar-moon-review

A special thank you to those who have taken time to write an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. This helps readers find my books, and I cannot thank you enough for helping spread the word.

Sugar-Moon-five-star-review-heroine

“Spoon gliding through a custard dessert.”

In between working more-than-full-time and trying to get the next book out (nearly a year late), I had not expected to find motivation on Goodreads of all places. I try to avoid the site, to be honest.

Goodreads is for readers, and I believe in their right to review honestly. Use all the stars. Give both good and bad news. After all, what one person hates, another might love. If I read that “this book has too much sex,” I one-click. It’s Pavlovian.

Now, while I absolutely believe reviewers have the right to give negative feedback, I personally don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on criticism. I read it in quick doses—like ripping off a bandage while squinting at my screen.

Recently, though, I came across a review of Tempting Hymn that has pretty much made the last three years worthwhile.

Phebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock

Phebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer HallockPhebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock

Thank you, Phebe. Next time I need a little encouragement to keep going, I’m coming right back here.

Read what people are saying about the Sugar Sun series!

Sugar-Moon-book-two-trilogy

Praise for Sugar Moon, the second full novel in the Sugar Sun series:

Named one of the 10 Best Historical Romances with Sports by Frolic!

“So this book I was saving for the long weekend? Readers, I just finished it. WHY DID I READ IT SO FAST?…Pretty sure Allegra will be my favorite heroine this year.” (★★★★★ review by Kat of BookThingo on Twitter and Goodreads)

Fantastic!…a comprehensive fictional characterization…” (Rolando O. Borrinaga, Ph.D., leading expert in the history of the Balangiga Incident)

“…this richly layered romance is filled with vivid details of a location not often found in historical romance…” (Bestselling author Joanna Shupe)

“I cared intensely for Allegra (Allie), a young woman who knows what she wants but not how to get it, and Ben, who doesn’t believe he deserves to have anything at all….Ben, a curmudgeon of an opium addict who I instantly disliked in Sugar Sun, is transformed through some sort of writerly witchcraft into a sympathetic character I couldn’t help but root for.” (★★★★★ review by Alexa Rowan on Goodreads)

“Highly recommended.” (Historical Novel Society review)

“These characters were so vibrant!…The portrayal of women—and Allegra in particular—uplifts and inspires…Sugar Moon sparkles with wit and romance…” (Michaelene M.’s review in Historical Romance Magazine)

Smart, engaging, and unspeakably naughty.” (★★★★★ review on Amazon)

Ben and Allegra’s story was “on a completely different level.” (Joy Villar’s review on Twitter)

Read Sugar Moon for free on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.


Tempting-Hymn-novella-Sugar-Sun-seriesPraise for Tempting Hymn, a novella in the Sugar Sun series:

A- and Desert Isle Keeper from All About Romance: “If you like underrepresented settings, social class conflict, intercultural romance, working class characters, or just damn good historicals, the Sugar Sun series is one to get into. I’m certainly developing a sweet tooth!”

“Reading this book feels like a spoon gliding through a custard dessert.” (Phebe on Goodreads)

Tempting Hymn manages to give adequate breathing room to the harsh historical realities of American colonial rule in the Philippines, while delivering a romance that is sweet, realistic and – above all – emotional….Hallock doesn’t pull any punches in Tempting Hymn, with either the romance or the historical detail. She does her setting and her characters justice, delivering a story that is raw and unflinching, but never too dark, because it has an engaging and touching romance at its core. [And] all the sex scenes here are insanely hot, just like in Under a Sugar Sun.” (Dani St. Clair, Romancing the Social Sciences)

“This novella does a hell of a lot of work between the lines. It’s actually breathtaking.” (Kat at BookThingo, posted on Twitter)

“The pairing here is American man/Filipino woman and that is a tricky, sensitive trope…but it’s handled with deft and care. And dignity.” (Mina V. Esguerra, author of Iris After the Incident, reviewed on Facebook)

“…the first love scene between Jonas and Rosa is a master class.” (Bianca Mori, author of the Takedown trilogy, reviewed on Goodreads)

Read Tempting Hymn for free on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.


Under-the-Sugar-Sun-book-one-trilogyPraise for Under the Sugar Sun, the first novel in the Sugar Sun series:

“If you’re looking for a meaty historical romance that will transport you somewhere you’ve never been, Jennifer Hallock’s books…are must-reads.” (Courtney Milan, NYT bestselling author of The Duchess War.)

“Intensely absorbing…the charged political climate of the day is drawn with refreshing nuance.” (Laura Fahey review for Historical Novel Society)

“Two pages in and I was utterly hooked. I sensed the voice of a confident writer and spied the shorelines of a diligently-researched world. I finished it this weekend, hungry for more.” (Bea Pantoja, blogger)

“It will take me a few days to recover from reading Jennifer Hallock’s beautifully written novel. It was vivid, funny, unflinching, poignant, and sexy…. I didn’t want to say goodbye to Georgie and Javier.” (Suzette de Borja, author of The Princess Finds Her Match, reviewed on Facebook)

“Oh my god this book!…And I’m usually not into the high-stakes romance because my heart doesn’t want to handle it, but this guy…” (Mina V. Esguerra, author of Kiss and Cry and the Chic Manila series).

“It’s a perfect read for those who love their romance with a little more plot, and for history buffs who want to see a different perspective on the Philippines.” (Carla de Guzman, Spot.ph on “10 Books That Will Take You Around the Philippines”)

“…Under the Sugar Sun was also just a great romance, the kind that makes you feel squiffy in the stomach when you remember it at odd moments during the day…grand in scope in the same way old-school romances were, but with a very modern presentation of race, class and gender.” (★★★★1/2 review by Dani St. Clair of Romancing the Social Sciences)

Read Under the Sugar Sun for free on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.


Hotel-Oriente-prequel-novella

Praise for Hotel Oriente, the prequella novella to the Sugar Sun series:

“The strength of this book, aside from the lyricism with which it describes Manila in what was arguably its heyday, is the intimacy between Della and Moss.” (Five-star review from Kat at Book Thingo)

“. . . a quick but delightful read. I loved that the plot played on a real profiteering scandal that occurred at the Hotel de Oriente, but I was equally intrigued by Hallock’s heroine.” (Erin at Historical Fiction Reader)

“I loved this book. It’s got an easy, fluid style that’s both readable and vivid.” (Author Erin Satie)

“…a stellar novella…[with] political intrigue, a sexy hard-working hero, and fascinating details about early 20th century Philippines. Her stories are beautifully-written and painstakingly-researched.” (Penny Watson, author of A Taste of Heaven, reviewed on Goodreads)

Find Hotel Oriente at Amazon as a standalone novella, or grab it as part of the Romancing the Past anthology wherever you purchase your ebooks, starting September 15, 2021.


History-Ever-After-Jennifer-Hallock-reader-group

The Sugar Sun series an epic family saga of love and war at the beginning of the twentieth century. Books are listed below in reverse-publication order, starting with the latest releases first. This series does not need to be read in order, however, and all are interconnected-yet-standalone happily-ever-afters.


Author Bio:

Jennifer Hallock spends her days teaching history and her nights writing historical happily-ever-afters. She has lived and worked in the Philippines, but she currently writes at her little brick house on a New England homestead—kept company by her husband, a growing flock of chickens, and a mutt named Wile E.

Jennifer-Hallock-author-bio

Author Details:

Jennifer is available for speaking engagements, interviews, and appearances. She is also happy to speak to reading and writing groups via Zoom.

She presents on the history of America in the Philippines: How is a war you have never heard of more important than ever today?

She also presents to writers’ groups on:

Contact Info:

Jennifer Hallock — jen at jenniferhallock dot com
Mailing List — info at jenniferhallock dot com or http://bit.ly/sugarnewsletter
Twitter — @jen_hallock
Facebook — jenniferhallockbooks
Instagram — jen_hallock
Amazon author page — http://bit.ly/jenniferhallock

Photos:

Author photo: download here
Sugar Moon cover: download here
Tempting Hymn cover: download here
Under the Sugar Sun cover: download here