Amitava Kumar’s latest novel, Immigrant, Montana (Knopf) is a wry, melancholic, funny, and timely migrant’s tale about Kailash, a young Indian immigrant studying post-colonialism in 1990’s New York City. The prolific journalist and author of both fiction and non-fiction books opened up about his latest work and process.
INDULGE: How long did you work on this novel?
AMITAVA: The opening scene was written on a train when I was going to interview for my first job, as an assistant professor at a university ten years ago. Other books happened. I wrote other scenes and it wasn’t till three years ago, during a residency at Yaddo, that things fell into place.
INDULGE: Why did it take so long?
AMITAVA: You know, each book needs to find its own form. I had made some starts but what I also wanted was to be formally inventive. When I thought I had found a mixed form, one between fiction and nonfiction, where I could be serious but also playful, I found it easier to write. I finished one draft during a stay at Yaddo. Then, during another residency the following year in Marfa, TX, I did a rewrite and sent it off to my agent.
INDULGE: What inspired you to write this book?
AMITAVA: I always knew I wanted to tell the story of Eqbal Ahmad. An extraordinary life. He had been born in a village in my home state, Bihar. Went to Pakistan during the Partition—and that part of his life is present in a story told by John Berger. I wanted to write about his Eqbal Ahmad’s later life. When he was an activist and a scholar in America. I guess I also wanted to imitate Berger but differ from him by choosing a later point in Ahmad’s life. I wanted to begin with the story told during his trial. That, to protest the war in Vietnam, he wanted to kidnap Kissinger and then say to him, “Mr Kissinger, you’re under arrest.”
INDULGE: Do you remember what it was like when you had your first book published?
AMITAVA: It’s difficult to remember. I’ve been writing and publishing for such a long time now. A part of this novel was first published years ago in a newspaper in India. But, to be honest, in terms of my career, I felt I had really published when I got into the pages of Granta because it had been a dream for so long.
INDULGE: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
AMITAVA: I’ve always been consoled and encouraged by the words of E. L. Doctorow: “Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
— Ghalib Dhalla
Check out Amitava Kumar’s website HERE.