Akil Kumarasamy’s debut Half Gods hits shelves today. To help celebrate, we are proud to feature an essay from Kumarasamy on how she arrived at the structure for this unique collection. Check out this essay and then pick of Kumarasamy’s beautiful book today.
“I used the tightness and versatility of the short-story form and the accumulative power of the novel. For a book dealing with borders, it made sense that the structure would fall somewhere in between.”
When I think of my book, Half Gods, I am reminded of a broken teapot that I had once tried to resurrect with superglue. I had brought it for my mother from England, and sitting outside on our porch in Jersey, I tried to piece together this colonial gift that had shattered in transit. Even after all my efforts, the thin gashes in the porcelain ensured it would never hold water. Still, my mother kept this teapot, which had lost its purpose. “Travel is not easy on the body,” she told me.
The crack down the center of the teapot showed how a teapot could become a light catcher, how sometimes fractures could be luminous. In telling a story of a displaced family in Half Gods, I had to reconstruct it in pieces, cutting across time and countries; making something that didn’t necessarily fit clean but that was surprising and expansive; letting the reader peer through a fissure to find, perhaps, a new sense of geography: Haiti next to Sri Lanka, Tamil and Punjabi in a single name. I used the tightness and versatility of the short-story form and the accumulative power of the novel. For a book dealing with borders, it made sense that the structure would fall somewhere in between.
Half Gods follows two brothers named after demigods from the Mahabharata and looks into their origins and destinies, crossing time and countries. A lonely Angolan butcher from Botswana visits the family in New Jersey for dinner in one story while in another a baby girl is renamed as a Hindu goddess but raised as a Muslim after an act of violence. The stories build sequentially in revealing the characters and showing the connections between parents, children, and friends in unexpected ways.
While speaking to the larger narratives of war and family histories, I want the stories, like the shards of a teapot, to capture the jagged edges of individual human lives. Characters, like us, are contradictory beings, struggling to articulate their own experiences—sometimes willfully, sometimes blindly. If I look at the teapot, I can still see all the cracks, the empty space, but those absences tell stories. In fiction, what is left unsaid can be just as revealing as what is on the page.