Priya Basil, author of ,The Obscure Logic of the Heart, was born in London and grew up in Kenya. Her first novel,Ishq and Mushq, was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, The Dylan Thomas Prize for Young Writers and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Priya lives in London and Berlin.The Book Lovers spoke to her about her book, her favourite Indian authors and her support for Control Arms Campaign
Your book title is very interesting, how did this title come about?
My original working title was I am Another You. The words are a translation of a Mayan greeting: ‘in lak’ech’. I think there’s something wonderfully affirmative about making such a statement when you meet someone, and the sentiment worked as a sort of guide for me while I was writing the book.
However, my editor and agent didn’t feel this title was quite right. We went through lots of options, but none of them really inspired me. My editor eventually suggested ‘The Obscure Logic of the Heart’, which is taken from a sentence in the novel. It immediately felt absolutely perfect because it captures the essence of the story, and also something of the human condition.
While writing this book did you disagree with any of the characters and the decisions they were taking?
Part of the purpose of writing this novel was to explore mindsets quite different from my own, in particular a devout religious sensibility. While creating each character, I did momentarily support their thoughts and actions. This is the wonder of writing – when you really get in to a character you understand that they have their own integrity, and you must follow that to produce truly resonant, powerful literature.
Writers don’t create characters they like and agree with only. The greatest challenge of writing is to express, credibly and sympathetically, views, motives and feelings that one does not share. When the writer succeeds then the reader too is able to make the leap into understanding, and even feeling close to, a character that is completely other.
Did any real life incident or people inspire the characters and influence the story of this book?
No specific person or incident inspired the story, rather it was the result of an accumulation of experience and observations.
Would Lina and Anil's story be any different if her parents, Shareef and Iman, were not as strongly opposed to the relationship?
This is one of those possibilities that haunt every life. We all know what it is to be tormented by ‘if only’ and ‘what if’ – and we also know how rarely one thing alone is decisive in any situation. Lina and Anil’s relationship is complicated on many levels. Her parents are but one knot in a thread that is also tangled by her religion, social values and, indeed, her character.
Is Lina's love for Anil a silent rebellion against her parents and their religious beliefs?
I don’t conceive of love as a reaction against something. Rather, I see it as an emotion of affirmation, an attraction to something or someone. You don’t truly love something simply because it’s the opposite of what is disturbing or oppressive to you, you love it for some quality inherent in itself.
You are a supporter of Control Arms Campaign; could you tell us more about that?
I always knew that the heroine of The Obscure Logic of the Heart would have a strong social conscience, which would clash with the private realities of her own life. During the early stages of writing, the problem of piracy in the Indian Ocean, along the coast of Somalia, made lots of headlines. One particular incident, about a ship carrying arms, caught my attention because of Kenya’s alleged involvement in the procurement of weapons that were destined for South Sudan, which is under an arms embargo.
I began to read up about arms dealing, and was shocked by the scale of the trade, especially the illegal aspect of it. The international arms trade is considered by Transparency International to be one of the three most corrupt businesses in the world. The UK is one of the five biggest arms suppliers in the world, and India is one of the five biggest recipients.
I am for all efforts to curb the arms trade and make it more accountable. One way for me to express this was through my fiction, but I’m now also interested in finding other ways to highlight the issue. I support the Control Arms Campaign, which is a global civil society alliance campaigning for an Arms Trade Treaty that will help protect lives.
What are you working on next?
The idea for my third novel is just taking shape in my mind. It will involve a fair bit of research, which I have yet to get started on. In the meantime, I am working on some non-fiction and short stories.
Who would you say are your favourite Indian authors?
Salman Rushdie and Hari Kunzru.
What is your advice to anyone wanting to write a novel?
I can’t offer anything better than the age-old recommendations: read eclectically and excessively, and write daily and diligently.
Read the book review here.