Anita Rau Badami tells it to the trees

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First aired on The Next Chapter (5/3/12)


Northern British Columbia in the dead of winter can be a cold and isolating place.  It can also be a threatening and mysterious one, and that's why Anita Rau Badami chose to set her latest novel there. Tell It To the Trees is the story of an Indian family who have settled in a small B.C. town and mostly keep to themselves until they wake one winter morning to find a corpse, frozen to death, in their backyard.

Tell It to the Trees is Badami's fourth novel, but it's her first mystery. She was inspired to write it after an unusual trip up north. She was commissioned to write a story for Saturday Night magazine and planned to stay with a friend. However, when that friend had unexpected guests, Badami was sent to a friend of a friend's place, even further out of town. "It was a small house set on a vast property, there were trees everywhere, there was a forested area behind the house," Badami recalled in a recent interview with The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers. However, the home's residents made an even greater impression on Badami: two elderly women who kept to themselves and one who had, for unknown reasons, taken a vow of silence. "They were strange women."

After the trip, Badami found herself wondering about the family she stayed with. It was an unusual place for an immigrant family to build a life. "I've often wondered, How do they live there? What is it that attracted them to these places? Is it the silence?" Badami said. Her interest piqued as she did more research into the family. Rumours about who they were and why the one woman never spoke flew through town. One of those rumours was that the woman refused to let her alcoholic and abusive husband inside one wintry night after he came home from drinking, and he froze to death, While the stories were just rumours, they stayed with Badami. "That family stuck with me, that sense of isolation, that sense that something wasn't quite right," she said. "It became the seed for this story."

The story only grew from there, spurred by Badami's interest in what happens to children who grow up in violent homes. "Ive often wondered what happens to children who grow up in those violent homes. Home is where you expect love and security and care and instead you get beaten up for everything," she said. "Do they become abusers? Do they end up in violent situations all over again?" From there, an entire novel evolved.

One thing Badami is certain about, however, is that exploring dark and unsettling subjects is important. "It's my business as a fiction writer to go into those dark and horrible places."

StampedeTell It To the Trees
by Anita Rau Badami

From the publisher: 

"One freezing winter morning a dead body is found in the backyard of the Dharma family's house. It's the body of Anu Krishnan. For Anu, a writer seeking a secluded retreat from the city, the Dharmas' 'back-house' in the sleepy mountain town of Merrit's Point was the ideal spot to take a year off and begin writing. She had found the Dharmas' rental through a happy coincidence. A friend from university who had kept tabs on everyone in their graduating year - including the quiet and reserved Vikram Dharma and his first wife, Helen - sent her the listing. Anu vaguely remembered Vikram but had a strong recollection of Helen, a beautiful, vivacious, social and charming woman..."

Read more at Knopf Canada.