It is fair to say that the publishing industry is, if not dying, at least undergoing an unprecedented transformation. With the onset of e-books, digital media, celebrity biographies, and a general decline in reading, publishing houses are signing fewer and fewer authors and commissioning less traditional novels and nearly no collections of short stories.
Prajwal Parajuly is an answer to this trend. Currently studying a creative writing MA at Kellogg College, he has recently signed a two book deal with publisher Quercus, for a collection of short stories and a novel, the first of which is due out in December 2012.
His book of short stories, The Gurkha’s Daugher, was researched by travelling across communities in the US, Asia, and Britain and hearing the stories of refugees. Parajuly says he had not realised the extent to which the short story market was shrinking, but says ‘I am thankful that I was ignorant. Chances are I’d have never started the project had I approached it with a pragmatic attitude’. Citing Tom Wolfe as his favourite living author – a man who, using traditional forms of the novel and short story, subverted norms and blurred genres – Parajuly has faith in fiction. He says ‘I don’t think I could be happy doing journalistic writing. When you’re writing fiction, you have the power to do what you want with your characters…you can mix fact with fiction.’
He seems to ascribe to the literary theory that fiction exerts some control over a fragmented world, and admits that he grew up with ‘an identity crisis of sorts’. In the short story form, characters with different stories, the same heritage, but different lands, all co-exist in a format which both admits their disparity but also implies their inter-connectedness, as Parajuly says: ‘I thought encapsulating the lives of Nepali-speaking people spread everywhere in the world in an anthology would be wiser than doing so in a novel.’
Parajuly’s novel, tentatively titled Land Where I flee, also examines idea of nationality and place. He says the title comes ‘because the characters are constantly moving around, there’s a lot of escaping in the novel…the world has become a small village. Because I divide my time among three continents, I don’t even know how to answer ‘where are you based’ questions anymore.’
As someone who lived abroad growing up, I remember desperately trying to deny my status as an outsider and trying to fit in, shirking from questions of my heritage. Yet Parajuly revels in the interchange and dialogue that comes from discussion of our differences. He talks about moving to small-town America, where people ‘had never ventured out’ of the US, and says ‘people were always asking you questions, fascinated by you.’
He views this as a positive, saying ‘I am so glad I got to experience that part of the country…I would never have known an America like that existed.’ Parajuly’s cultural relativism is refreshing, and betrays his belief that the world is indeed a ‘small village’, where we all can benefit from sharing our stories. The process of growing up in different places and between Nepalese and Indian cultures, (something he says ‘informed my writing immensely’) seems to have been a process of accepting both your heritage and those around you: ‘With time, you learned to be proud of your roots. So what if they weren’t as conventional as those of your friends?’