Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Rajiv Surendra on the mouthwatering invitation he's still waiting for

The author of The Elephants in My Backyard answers eight questions submitted by eight other authors.
Rajiv Surendra is the author of the memoir The Elephants in My Backyard. (Luke Fontana)

For Rajiv Surendra, starring in the film adaptation of Life of Pi was more than a dream — it seemed like fate. But after six years of diligent research, travel and consulting with Yann Martel himself, the Mean Girls actor didn't get the part. Surendra chronicles the pursuit of his dream and the life-changing force of failure in his book, The Elephants in My Backyard, which was longlisted for Canada Reads 2017.

Below, Rajiv Surendra answers eight questions submitted by eight of his fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.

1. Sharon Butala asks, "What is the main question that you wish somebody would ask you, although nobody ever has?"

Can you please come over to my parents' house for dinner? Because they're both VERY Italian and my Ma would love nothing more than to cook a huge, authentic meal for you!

2. Frances Itani asks, "Describe a walk that would and could feed your imagination and your writing. In what part of the world would this walk take place?"

Picture it — Dufferin and Davenport, 1995. The son of immigrant parents to Canada has been sent out to replenish the family's stock of toilet paper. They have run out entirely and they are relying on him to return home, victorious. It's January, and he can hardly begin to imagine where the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart is. Somehow he finds the courage to soldier on in the snow, wandering aimlessly. He's inspired. He knows this task, this journey, will one day be the source of infinite wisdom and fulfillment.

3. Alexi Zentner asks, "Do you ever bribe yourself to write? What with?"

Yes. With coffee. I've become addicted to my daily fix at an overcrowded café near my apt on the Upper West Side in New York. I'd mention the exact spot, but I'd rather not risk adding to the foot traffic in this place, however minimal the potential may be.

4. Rudy Wiebe asks, "What do you understand by the word 'spirituality?'"

Introspection. Accepting one's place in the world and how we fit into the lives of others. Finding a way of being content with life on a daily basis.

5. Michael Christie asks, "Was there a book you actually wanted to live inside as a child?"

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder.

6. Dominique Fortier asks, "What is the most beautiful word?"


7. Yann Martel asks, "Is there a Great Book that you actually hate? Why?"

Middlemarch. I was being a cocky overachiever in tenth grade and picked this as my choice for an English project. We were to finish our chosen book within a week and I failed miserably... this monster of a novel weighed me down, quite literally, and I've tried to jump back in, all these years later, but am still left with such a bitter feeling of defeat associated with this book... despite the beautiful writing... that I can't bring myself to actually FINISH it!

8. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What's the best response you've ever had from a reader?"

"It was a difficult book to put down. Though I grew up reading biographies of all sorts, I would never label any one of them a 'page-turner'. But yours, Rajiv, IS. Your book made me laugh and ponder. It also made me cry several times. I can't help but take away the feeling of urgency the book touched me with: Don't wait... take risks... put your energy out there."