Monday May 29, 2017

Why novelist Pasha Malla is challenging the way we tell stories

Pasha Malla's latest novel follows two young men as they embark on a Don Quixote–like quest from Canada to Kashmir, India.

Pasha Malla's latest novel follows two young men as they embark on a Don Quixote–like quest from Canada to Kashmir, India. (Vanessa Oliver/Knopf Canada)

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Pasha Malla's debut short story collection, The Withdrawal Method, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize and longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and his first novel, People Park, was a finalist for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. His latest, the novel Fugue States, follows two men on a journey from Canada to Kashmir. Malla uses the pilgrimage as an opportunity to bust stereotypes of manliness and to question the nature of masculinity. He also explores the problematic nature of tourism, father-son relationships and how we use stories to make sense of our lives. 

Self as inspiration

When I started this book, I was thinking of a version of myself if I hadn't ended up doing the things in my life that make me happy. What would I be like? That guy [the character Ash] started out as the worst version of myself as possible. 

Using stories to cope with loss

It's so hard to know other people and that's really articulated when they are gone. There is this sense of trying to reassemble the person. I think for Ash at least, he turns to stories and tries to recreate this person through stories. Then he tries to see the stories in some sort of new way. There was this comic anecdote Ash and his sister used to tell about their dad but now that he is gone, what does it mean? Was there some other resonance in it that was always lost in the comedy?

Rewriting memory

All the characters in the book, even some of the the peripheral characters, are invested in different ways of building memory and using memory to understand who they are and their cultural identity. The loss of memory in a fugue state took all of those things to a grotesque end point. It was a complete annihilation of memory. There is nothing left. Then what? Who are you? What are you? How do you understand anything? That's what I was interested in. 

Multiple possibilities

One of the themes of the book is this idea that the way we think of narrative culturally in the West is this phallocentric, propulsive narrative that has a conclusion. The book needed to avoid that. It necessarily doesn't conclude in a way that is clear. I think the different paths that it opens are the point of the whole thing. Instead of one way understanding who we are or instead of one way of understanding the story there might be multiple possibilities. 

Pasha Malla's comments have been edited and condensed.