Everything Else

2019 delivered a last couple of gifts before it said goodbye. I was awarded a PEN/Heim Translation Grant 2020 to work on my planned collection of non-realist short stories by Mashiul Alam (you can read the judges’ citation here). And my translation of Mashiul Alam’s short story Milk/দুধ won the Himal Southasian Short Story Competition 2019–the only translated story to make the shortlist. You can read the translation here, the original in Bengali here, and the judges’ citation here, where they said, “We marvelled that the story is so lucidly told and the translation so seamless and beautiful in its retelling. Here, we felt, is a story being told to us, that could be spoken or written, that held us in its thrall and led us beyond ourselves.”

An interview with the Bangla webzine Porospor where I talk about my writing and translating life. January 2020.

সময় বের করার যুদ্ধ বোধহয় সব দেশেই লেখকের সবচেয়ে বড় দ্বন্দ্ব। পেট চালানো, সংসার, সংসারের মানুষ—সব সামলে লেখার সময় বের করা খুব কঠিন। নারীলেখকদের জন্য আরো কঠিন। আমি প্রচুর পুরুষলেখককে তাদের স্ত্রীর প্রতি কৃতজ্ঞতা প্রকাশ করতে দেখেছি, যে স্ত্রীদের অবদান ছাড়া লেখক হিশেবে জীবনযাপন করা তাদের জন্য প্রায় অসম্ভব হতো (মশিউল ভাইও ইরা ভাবীর প্রতি কৃতজ্ঞতা জ্ঞাপন করেছেন) এবং সেরকমটিই হওয়া উচিত। সে তুলনায় প্রায় কোনো নারী লেখকের কাছে শুনি নি যে তার পুরুষসঙ্গী/স্বামী ঘরে সাংসারিক দায়িত্ব টেনে নিয়েছেন তার লেখকসত্তাকে স্পেস দেয়ার জন্য। আমার নিজেকে ছাড়া বোধহয় আমি আরেকজন দেশি নারীলেখকের কথা জানি যার এই ‘সৌভাগ্য’ আছে।

A quick interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Arts and Letters about translating Shaheen Akhtar’s Shokhi Rongomala.

The moment I turned the last page of Shokhi Rongomala, I knew two things: I had to translate this book because it deserved a wider readership, and it was going to be the most difficult and intense translation project I’d ever undertaken.

South Asian literature in translation!

91st Meridian, the online translation journal of the International Writing Program, asked Daisy Rockwell and me to guest edit a South Asian issue for them. You can find the issue here, with fiction, micro-fiction, and poetry from seven languages, and read our editorial about how the issue came together, and why it’s important: “South Asian literature in translation is nearly invisible in the US. It shouldn’t be. Let’s make it a little less so.” 

Writer Melanie Page interviews me at her blog Grab the Lapels.

What was the first story you ever wrote about?

I had toyed with the idea of being a writer for most of my teenage and adult life, I just hadn’t been serious about it. I had numerous story ideas jotted down, and many false starts which still sit unfinished.  I still come across them sometimes in notebooks. I think partly because I was lazy, partly because I didn’t really believe I could do it, partly because I had no idea how to. Which is one of the reasons perhaps I veered toward translation: because the ‘how to’ part of the storytelling had already been taken care of.


I’m interviewed by Shamika Shabnam for The Asian Writer.

SS: As a writer, do you prefer isolation while you’re in the middle of working on a story or a poem? Do you think writers in general need a certain form of isolation to connect with their work?

SN: Do I prefer it? Yes, absolutely. Do I get it? Not often. As single parent to a young child, a large part of my writing life has been trying to balance my writing hours with the demands of school, meals, laundry, playtime—the mundane demands of everyday living. But I’m also grateful for those demands placed on me. I feel that is exactly the sort of thing that keeps me grounded in the real world. Writers have different processes and what works for me, or rather what I make work for me, may not work for another writer. But for me, I do think what works best is this balancing act; it’s my earthing wire. It’s good to be reminded that no matter how ensconced I may be in the rarefied air of writing at a given moment, I need to get up and make dinner or my child doesn’t get fed. I think that’s the kind of thing that can keep a writer from feeling too self-important, from forgetting that even though writing is important, it’s not the only or the most important thing in the world, and sometimes the act of crafting khichuri can be as fraught and as vital as that of crafting a story.


I interviewed the novelist Shaheen Akhtar for Eclectica magazine. Shaheen’s second novel Talaash (Trans. The Search, Pub. Zubaan Books) is one of the best novels written about Bangladesh’s War of Liberation.

SN     Tell us a bit about reader response to Talaash. How successful do you think yourself in communicating what you wanted to say?

SA     I think that a kind of guilt works at a subconscious level in the minds of the Bengalis regarding the women tortured during the Liberation War. The War went on only for nine months, it was the responsibility of the people of that liberated nation that the period of torture was lengthened beyond that for these women. This is presented to the reader in my novel Talaash, by narrating the story of 30 years of that post-War abuse. Maybe because there was a subconscious guilt about it, readers didn’t reject it, they’ve tried to assimilate it to their own emotions. Such an indication is quite clear in the testimonials of the jury board, reviews of Talaash or reader feedback that I’ve received on a personal level. Talaash is perhaps a successful book in that it awakened sleeping consciences. But if such a situation should arise again, there’s no guarantee that they’re not going to behave the same way. In fact, it’s more than probable that they will. Because the fault at the root, that issue of satittyo or the honor of women—that remains unresolved.


And my review of Papree Rahman’s novel Boyon (2008).

In her second novel Boyon, Papri Rahman presents a tale of love in its various forms and guises. Set in a community of jamdaani weavers, Boyon gives readers the unforgettable tales of Sobed Ali, his first wife Poiron Bibi and their descendants, Atimuni his second wife, the mystic madman Mulukchan and his much younger wife Kamala Sundari. But the love that comes through above all, is the love of the craft — the obsession with color, fabric and design which holds the weavers in thrall despite the miniscule returns from the business.


And my review of Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need to Talk About Kevin (2007).

To Eva Khatchadourian, motherhood is “a foreign country”. One can hardly ignore the allusion which begs the question: how differently do they do things there?


Here you can check out me reading on the Lit Show (the radio show based at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop broadcast by KRUI)— my flash fiction Eating Bone and short story Girl in the Rain (excerpt).