Shilpi Somaya Gowda on bridging cultures through fiction

Shilpi Somaya Gowda talks about her latest novel, The Golden Son.

Sometimes one novel can increase cross-cultural understanding more than summits or missions or politics. That's what happened with Secret Daughter, the debut novel from Shilpi Somaya Gowda. The story of an Indian woman forced to give up her child and the American couple who adopts the baby became the biggest Canadian book of 2010. Shilpi is back now with another story that melds Indian and American realities. It's a novel called The Golden Son. This interview originally aired on November 23, 2015.

WHERE THE IDEA FOR THE GOLDEN SON CAME FROM

The genesis of the idea came from a cultural practice in India that has existed for many generations: the arbitration of disputes in an informal way. Before there were judicial systems established in rural areas in India, there were councils or assemblies of five respected elders who would adjudicate matters on anything that came before them, from property disputes to divorces to family issues. That practice has endured for many generations in a less formal way. I always thought it was fascinating, and it would be interesting to build a story around a character that was thrust into this role, who doesn't volunteer for it, but it's put upon him, and he has to learn to develop the wisdom to execute it. If you're really going to understand people and relationships, and live with the decisions that you make for other people after you leave the table — that's one of the interesting things about this practice that fascinated me. This system of administered justice is so different than our system in the West.

WHERE HER FASCINATION WITH THE INDIAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE COMES FROM

My parents were immigrants from India. They left India before they had children and I was raised in Canada, but the rest of my family stayed behind, all my aunts and uncles and cousins. We went back to visit fairly often, which I think is part of the reason I am fascinated by the dual identity or dual worlds or moving back and forth. It's an experience I've always had in my life. I think that's part of what informs the stories that I write. Whether they are immigrants or children of immigrants or even if they are just square pegs in a round hole, everybody can identify with that idea of feeling different and maybe having to navigate more than one aspect of your own identity.

Shilpi Somaya Gowda's comments have been edited and condensed.