Behind the book

Living in Bombay, India, in my 20s, I witnessed slum demolitions. Earning a pittance in the informal economy, at best, left people with no choice but to claim what land they could find and build their own homes. But there was no guarantee that they would be allowed to live on in these most basic of shelters.

Where did these people come from? Mega dams and other "development" projects meant that the most vulnerable lost their small land holdings, livelihoods, community and a way of life. Many were dislocated over and over again. As well, there were landless labourers, the unemployed and the under employed. People also wanted to come to the cities to have more opportunities.

When I came back to Canada, my adopted country, after living in Tanzania, East Africa, and working for a non-profit organization there, I had the outline for Land for Fatimah in my suitcase.

Later, I received a small writing grant, and did some research. The novel began to take shape, partially fuelled by the anger and frustration I felt at the injustices suffered by dispossessed farmers and the urban poor. I had questions about international development as well. My expatriate experience in Tanzania had been stimulating, but also very challenging. All that and much else started to come together in the wonderful, inexplicable way that creates fiction. I so love making things up!

From the beginning I knew that the story would take place in an imaginary East African country, populated by make believe ethnic groups like the Aanke, that Fatimah belongs to. I named the country Kamorga. There would be many languages, stunning tropical settings and a colonial history. And there would be Western, international development organizatons, including Health Education and Livelihood Skills Partnership (HELP), where my heroine Anjali would work.

The characters "came" to me, followed by the exhilarating work of developing them further. The unusual friendship between Anjali, the idealistic NGO worker, and Fatimah, the feisty farmer, and their common quest to find land for Fatimah's dispossessed community, are key to this narrative. Anjali's multidimensional colleague, Grace, who is the antagonist in this story, and her kindly maid, Mary, play important roles. Then there is Rahul, Anjali's unhappily displaced son, Gabriel, Mary's bookish boy, and Hassan, the debonair, Marxist consultant Anjali is drawn to. And many others!

I wrote this book to bring to life important issues that have no easy solutions. I illuminate these issues through the interwoven, life stories of Anjali, Fatimah, Grace and Mary. I believe I have written a serious book, but not a bleak one. Let's see what you make of it! Please do write and tell me what you think. I really appreciate reader response.

You can read a blog I wrote while living in Tanzania here.