I recently had the great fortune of receiving the galleys of a novel by Sujatha Hampton for her début work of fiction entitled, "As It Was Written," due out in February of 2010 from Thomas Dunne Books.
I first learned of Sujatha through my yoga teacher, who emailed me to let me know that she was looking for someone to help her create a visual pitch for the book and devise a viral marketing campaign to generate online buzz prior to its release.
A few days ago, the book arrived in the mail. Minus its official cover, but complete with the publisher's marketing strategy bullet pointed on the back, it was exciting to unwrap from its package. There it was, after all, raw and new and full of potential, a writer's vision made tangible, suspended in that still, quiet middle place where years of work and discipline and daring wait to give way to an official flipping of the switch on the publicity machine, when the book will hit the shelves, the author will be paraded and toured, plied with questions of craft, and (hopefully), applauded for her work.
If the outside of the book was a thrill, what was contained within left me wanting to be a better writer. This is a story of love and longing and family, of culture and tradition, and of a multi-generational curse on which the story hangs. It's one of those books that you stay up to read and reluctantly put down at the last possible minute, when the demands of carpool and dinner and homework can no longer be silenced.
It's also one of those reads that is crafted like a literary treasure hunt, with clever turns of phrase and evocative descriptions dotted like pearls across the novel's landscape, there for the discovering. I earmarked the page when I stumbled on this one: "...a cool wind blew down from the roof bringing a rain of yellow flowers the size and shape of apostrophes," caught my breath when I read, "Amma made an earthy sound, like the moving of mountains..." and finally had to put the book down when this achingly beautiful observation, "And in that moment the mother knew it was two and she knew one was a boy, and what this meant was too enormous a thought for such a simple slice of the hushed and gentle night," made the simple act of turning the page feel like sacrilege.
Who writes like that? Too enormous a thought for such a simple slice of the hushed and gentle night. It's turns of phrases such as these, simple, elegant, profound, that keep writers glued to their chairs, staring for hours on end, listening — praying — for this kind of inspiration to activate the stagnate cursor on the screen. This is brilliant writing, but you don't get here on talent alone. I don't know Sujatha — not yet — but I know something about the process, know that to write as she does, you've got to show up even when you have nothing to say, when the well is running dry, when you'd rather be running carpool and doing dishes and helping with homework — anything other than what you have to do, which is to confront the blank screen, and wait.
"As It Was Written" is the result of years of work and discipline and daring, and as it is written, is a stunning work of fiction. 2010 should be nothing short of amazing for Sujatha Hampton, and I can't wait to watch as the year gives up its own treasures to her.