We arrive at night, landing at West Palm International, still wearing jeans and fleece jackets as we step into the Florida night and walk to the taxi stand through air softened by warmth and humidity. Fifteen minutes later my sister and I stumble over the tiny brick path that leads from the edge of the cul-de-sac to the front door, swatting at mosquitos while my dad punches in the security code, everybody exhausted but excited to finally be back. It’s always like this, in all my memories of the place – an evening flight out of Boston landing us in West Palm sometime between ten and midnight, the night always clear, the air a humid 73.
The house belonged to my grandparents. Every February while I was in elementary school, my family would stay there for a week, a brief respite from the New England winter. My grandparents purchased the house as an eventual retirement home, but my grandfather had still not retired, and so the house occupied a strange sort of limbo, going entirely un-lived-in over the summer, and seeing only nine or ten weeks of use in the rest of the year. We returned each year to a sterile, static domicile that was clearly nobody’s home, greeted by the same immaculate white carpets, spotless tabletops, and barren kitchen. The house felt like a blank canvas over which our vacations were painted; it functioned simply as a base of operations. And this was the role my parents wanted it to play, because they were always desperate to get out of the house, to not let their week off go to waste. But for me, the house, and the similarly sterile neighborhood around it became the consummate vacation setting. February vacation came to be synonymous with Florida, the days 80 degrees and sunny, the blacktop so hot that wiffleball games couldn’t be played barefoot, the nights cool and humid and echoing with the hooting, melancholy whistle of the night train that passed along the outskirts of the gated community just after my nine-thirty bedtime.
Feroz Rather is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Florida State University. His work has been published in such journals as TheMillions, TheRumpus, and TheSoutheast Review, and his debut novel, The Night of Broken Glass, was released by Harper Collins India this year. Through a series of interconnected stories, in which the same characters move in and out, the novel-in-stories describes the horrors of violence in Kashmir today. Read an excerpt online here.
Via email, Neha Kirpal spoke with Rather about Kashmir, V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas (“Isn’t that an extraordinary achievement?”), survival, and Rather’s social role as a Kashmiri Muslim writer (“The only responsibility the writer has is to find his own true voice”).
Living Under Siege: An Interview with Feroz Rather
Oh, how I crave Bloody Marys at night, tomato and vodka,
kick of Tabasco, spices make everything in life a hell
of a lot better, or at least a hell of a lot more interesting,
and I think that’s what we’re aiming for, and maybe what
I really want is tomato soup, like Andy Warhol used to request
I was reading my five-year-old son a story about dragons, when he threw me an unexpected question: “Dad? Was Katrina some kind of monster? Robbie’s big brother was talking about her at school. He said Katrina smashed his grandparents’ house a long time ago.”
For most of us living close to the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Katrina, which struck on August 29, 2005, was a monster of nearly mythical proportions, and for my son who was born five years later, the carnage Katrina inflicted seems beyond reality, the work of cartoon meanies with raspy voices and serrated teeth. Yet she was entirely real, and the destruction she wrought created millions of individual stories that make up the larger story of our nation’s weird relationship with Katrina.
Jim’s garden, like all gardens, was a work of deception.
I had a view of it from my side yard where the bamboo hedge had been reluctant to fill in, framing what it was supposed to hide: a sort of jungle fantasy some two hundred miles north of the tropics, shaded by laurel oaks.
It’s late afternoon on the beach in North Florida. It’s October, the end of a season, and the world is in motion. Monarchs cloud through the sunlight in orange swarms; blooms of jellyfish float along the shoreline; and schools of grouper leap in flustered succession, tails suspended above the ocean, bodies flapping. The air is just cold enough to make us duck our shoulders under water and lift our faces toward the sun, not shivering but not warm.
Townieis a book about fighting and writing. But it’s mostly about fighting: wanting to fight, learning to fight, training to fight, getting in fights. In the end, it’s about learning not to fight. (I’m not giving much away: a whole lot happens in the middle, and the final scene in which Dubus peels himself away from the urge to fight is lovely and stirring.)
Andre Dubus III spends his boyhood getting beat up a lot. Still scrawny at fourteen, he tells himself:
“I don’t care if you get your face beat in, I don’t care if you get kicked in the head or stabbed or even shot, I will never allow you not to fight back ever again. You hear me?”
Once upon a time, I believed that writing was the same thing as being a writer. This was before I understood that scribbling a messy sentence in a notebook was not actual writing, a time when I bought gamely into the self-sparked romance of becoming a writer: a life of moonlit walks beside rivers, bare apartments dancing with light, foreign languages drifting through a window full of geraniums. Being a writer meant being somewhere else, anywhere that promised architecture and meaningful encounters with sophisticated natives and a chilly, ascetic version of me pinned like an anchorite to my pages. I knew I could never be a writer in the place where I was born, small, cold Cooperstown with its mysterious lake. Laughable idea, that!