Local author to speak about new novel
Editor’s note: Canton author Phyllis Inman Barnett recently released her first novel “Love in the Time of War” and will make a stop in Waynesville at 3 p.m. Aug. 25 to sign copies. I recently asked Barnett the following questions about her new book.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I grew up here in Haywood County in a mountain culture steeped in the oral tradition of storytelling, and in the King James Version of the Bible. The poetry and rhythm of the language fascinated me as a child and it remains my favorite version of the Bible. I knew as a child the power of language and stories to enrich my life and to shape reality. I learned about the world and myself by reading books and by the harshness and beauty of the mountains that towered over and surrounded us. Reading was the doorway, the lens through which I viewed and interpreted the world. It still functions that way for me.
When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Writing was not a goal that I articulated to myself as a youth. I grew up in the 1950s and had other priorities in the early years. I became a teacher and taught English and gifted education first in Florida and then in New York. I am a wife, mother and grandmother. But during all the roles that I fulfilled over the years writing was a big part of my life. Writing helps me realize how I feel and what I think about myself and the world around me. I began to work seriously on my writing while teaching in New York. When I made writing assignments to my students, I wrote them also in the time given to my students. I got very behind in my paper grading, but I learned a lot about the writing process.
Talk about the new book.
“Love in the Time of War” is a work of fiction set in Florida and in Kashmir near the border between India and Pakistan where violence erupts between neighbors over land and religious differences. “Love in the Time of War” pays tribute to Jessie, its heroine, who survives tragedy and betrayal in her former life in Florida and is still able to risk loving again. Love is mysterious, ephemeral, not easily recognized or maintained in the best of times, but it is perhaps the most important and difficult thing we do in our life. At the core of both my books is the idea that a connection to land, to place is redemptive for individuals. Both attempt to show that the sacredness of place depends on the community and the web of people who care for each other. India is a complex and fascinating nation of various cultures and peoples.
How did you get the idea? Is it based on you own life experience?
I am a child of the South. The Civil War cast its shadows over my people and these mountains as I was growing up. My great-great grandfather Joshua Inman sent six sons to the Civil War and only two returned. I visited India twice. I spent six weeks living with an Indian family in Calcutta and traveling to other parts of the country. Each evening before dinner we would sit down with the papers. My host bought several newspapers, one of which was in English. I became fascinated with the stories from the Line Of Control in Kashmir. The land was divided and brothers and neighbors found themselves on opposing side. Civil wars have common roots wherever they are fought. I came home with the realization that people despite differences of skin color, religious beliefs, and numerous cultural diversities are alike in their fundamental desires for family and country.
What are the difficulties of writing about a different culture, country?
The challenge of research is exciting. And of course I am motivated because my two oldest grandchildren were born in India. My grandson Kiran was born in Calcutta and my granddaughter Nina was born in Mumbai. My siblings and I were brought up in a family where inclusion was more important than exclusion. My mother was the oldest in a large family and had the mind set of leaving no one feeling like an outsider. My father was from a Universalist family that stressed what we have in common with other religions and people rather than what is different. I found writing this book interesting and challenging.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
My first hope is that they will enjoy the story. Stories are the way we learn about the world around us as children and gradually we realize that it's not the moral or message that enthralls us but rather it is the way the story is told. Writers have to choose how to shape theirs stories just like siblings and other family members can tell about the same event and make it sound like a different event. I am not an expert on India or on the conflict between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir. “Love in the Time of War” is a love story shaped by my point of view and my hope is that readers will enjoy reading it and perhaps learn something in the process.