The Word On The Street Interview Series: Mayank Bhatt
It's nearly time to gather at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto and celebrate Canada's amazing writing culture! The Word on the Street is this Sunday, September 25, and will feature book and magazine publishers, food tents and trucks, literary-themed organizations and stores, dozens and dozens of readings and panel discussions by authors, and programming for kids and teens. We've had the chance to talk to several of the festival authors, and today we speak with Mayank Bhatt, author of Belief (Mawenzi House), a complex and timely family story.
He tells us about writing Belief, about the friendships and community amongst authors at WOTS (including the "friend an author" program), and about "the best Toronto novel".
You can see Mayank in person on Sunday at the Vibrant Voices tent at The Word on the Street!
Tell us about what you’ll be reading in the Vibrant Voices tent.
I’ll be reading from my novel Belief. It’s a novel about an upright and modest Muslim family in Mississauga, Ontario, who discovers the plans to bomb public places in Toronto on their son Rafiq’s computer.
The novel tells the story of the family’s escape from Bombay to Canada following the communal violence of 1993; their small success, epitomized by their proud ownership of a house; and Rafiq’s attraction to fundamentalist Islamic ideas.
Rafiq, it appears, has rejected the planned act of terrorism, organized by an evil charismatic genius, but how can he explain its details found on his computer?
Told simply, impartially, and with understanding and empathy, Belief describes the trauma of a family unable to understand their child as they anxiously await his fate.
Thematically, Belief examines the radicalization and alienation among a section of young Muslims living in western societies, and the interplay of attitudes on both sides that is leading to an ever-widening chasm.
It does this not polemically but by personalizing and particularizing it within an immigrant family to highlight the difficulties such families face in societies that often consider them aliens forever.
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Have you attended The Word on the Street in the past? If so, tell us about a favourite memory. If not, what are you most looking forward to?
Yes, I’ve attended The Word on the Street since 2009. I immigrated to Canada in 2008, but I couldn’t attend WOTS that year as I was working as a security guard. But from 2009 onward I haven’t missed it.
Many of my friends who are authors have been featured at the festival, and I’ve attended their readings to encourage and support them, to inspire and to be inspired by them.
I’ve many happy memories of WOTS — of listening to Katherine Govier reading from her novel The Ghost Brush; or Rabindranath Maharaj reading from his novel The Amazing Absorbing Boy; or just walking along the booths, browsing through books and magazines.
My most vivid memory is of becoming a friend of an author — Jessica Westhead when she launched her collection of short stories And Also Sharks. In a small and perhaps insignificant way, it was my way of thanking Toronto’s world of books for accepting me and giving a new identity to a newcomer to Canada.
The Vibrant Voices tent celebrates Ontario-authored and published books. Tell us about a favourite Ontario author or book you've read.
There are many Ontario/Toronto authors that I have admired. Among the celebrated authors are MG Vassanji, Michael Ondaatje, and among the new #Canlit stars are Farzana Doctor, Michael Fraser, and many others.
There are many books I count among my list of must read. And one of the most compelling novels that I’ve read after coming to Canada is Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. It’s the best Toronto novel. No other novel captures the spirit of Toronto as this one does.
When my family landed at the Pearson Airport on 12 July 2012, we were each given a bag that contained invaluably useful information on settling in Canada. If I could decide the contents of such a bag for newcomers, I’d definitely include In the Skin of a Lion. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who wishes to make Toronto (Canada) their new home.
What's the best advice you've ever received or the best advice you would offer about public readings?
I’m clueless on the subject.
Do you have a favourite spot in Ontario?
Toronto. I haven’t been anywhere else.
What can you tell us about your next project?
It’ll be a novel.
Mayank Bhatt immigrated to Toronto in 2008 from Mumbai (Bombay), where he worked as a journalist. His short stories have been published in TOK 5: Writing the New Toronto and Canadian Voices II. In Canada he has worked as a security guard, an administrator, and an arts festival organizer. He lives in Toronto with his family.
Grace O'Connell is the Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto and the author of Magnified World (Random House Canada). She also writes a book column for This Magazine.
For more information about Magnified World please visit the Random House Canada website.
Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.