Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.
Our Friend is Here: Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond during the month of May, where Asian and Pasifika authors are invited to celebrate being Asian and Pasifika work and literature! Find the introduction post for Asian and Pasifika Heritage Month here.
There are very few books on my Ultimate Favorites shelf, but a book that will always have a place on that shelf is You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins. This novel is a YA multigenerational masterpiece that focuses on women in each generation of a Bengali family who immigrated to New York from London in the 1970s and follows their story to present day. I remember listening to the audiobook in the car and wanting to befriend all of the Das women, from independent feminist Sonia, to fiercely protective Ranee.
I was beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to invite Mitali to the Pond for an interview. She has a large repertoire of books, including her most recent release Forward Me Back to You, another favorite of mine which chronicles the life of two teens living in the Bay Area of California and includes themes of adoption, friendship, and recovery from trauma. Please give a warm welcome to Mitali, who visits us today as a bengal tiger with a beautiful lavender shawl!
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
This elegant young adult novel captures the immigrant experience for one Indian-American family with humor and heart. Told in alternating teen voices across three generations, You Bring the Distant Near explores sisterhood, first loves, friendship, and the inheritance of culture–for better or worse.
From a grandmother worried that her children are losing their Indian identity to a daughter wrapped up in a forbidden biracial love affair to a granddaughter social-activist fighting to preserve Bengali tigers, award-winning author Mitali Perkins weaves together the threads of a family growing into an American identity.
Here is a sweeping story of five women at once intimately relatable and yet entirely new.
Author Interview: Mitali Perkins
Joce: Hi Mitali, and a warm welcome to the Pond! Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Mitali: Hi, Pond readers! I’m Mitali Perkins, author of books for (mostly) young readers and avid reader myself. I was born in India but moved to the United States when I was seven with my parents and two older sisters. I’ve lived in many countries, including Mexico, Thailand, Bangladesh, England, Ghana, and Cameroun, and now live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Joce: You have such a huge repertoire of books, and through them I feel like I have also gotten to know you better. Which of your books is the most personal or sentimental to you and why?
Mitali: Probably RICKSHAW GIRL because it features a Bengali father with no sons (in village South Asia, where sons are preferred to daughters) saying that his daughters were just as good as sons, which is exactly what my dear Baba used to say about the three of us. Also, it’s being adapted to a film by a team of incredible Bangladeshi Muslims, which is marvelous in a peacemaking way as their ancestors were in conflict with my Hindu ancestors. Check out Rickshawgirlmovie.com for more.
Joce: You Bring the Distant Near will forever be on my all-time favorite books shelf. I marvel at the scope of the book in its multigenerational storytelling and focusing on each woman while they are in their teens, but being able to follow them into adulthood. Can you tell us a little more about how you tackled the layout and scope of this book?
Mitali: I wanted to feature a family as a protagonist instead of a single individual. The book portrays a joint heroes’ journey to show how immigrating from one country to another slowly but surely transforms the family tree. The book is divided into three sections, each one named after the family’s identity as they change from “strangers” (our parents’ generation) to “travelers” (my generation) to “settlers” (my children’s generation.)
Joce: In Forward Me Back to You, Robin and Kat are at a pivotal age in their coming of age. How do their experiences and faith shape their coming of age?
Mitali: One of my favorite themes in this book is that trauma doesn’t get the last word. If you read it, notice the red scarf that’s given to Kat — it’s a metaphor for the suffering in our lives but how relationships and connections can transform that pain into an offering of love to the planet. I also liked how Kat and Robin could become good friends without any romance involved.
Joce: I love how your books are set in the Bay Area of California, and so many places and references are familiar to me. How does this setting (where applicable) inform your characters’ experiences and worldview lenses?
Mitali: I love the terrain of the Bay Area. The California oaks, wildflowers in the spring, our gleaming Bay in the distance and the graceful bridges — they all define home to me. I am a sensory person, so when I’m in a place, I like to smell, taste, hear, see, and touch.
Joce: We would love our friends to get to know your characters a little better, so we have a few quick hypothetical questions about them!
Who, of all your characters, is…
The best to cry and watch sad movies with after a breakup?
Mitali: Gracie in Forward Me Back to You, Ravi’s sweetheart
The best to attend a protest with?
Mitali: Sonia of You Bring the Distant Near shows us how love and anger can be bedfellows.
The most likely to win the Perfect Attendance award in school?
Mitali: Tara in You Bring the Distant Near likes to please people and not cause trouble.
The most likely to skip prom and have their own celebration elsewhere?
Mitali: Jazz of Monsoon Summer would probably want to give away the money she’d otherwise spend on prom and enjoy a romantic dinner with Steve somewhere in Berkeley near their business.
Joce: How do you think the publishing industry has changed since your first book was published, to now?
Mitali: The myth that “mainstream” readers won’t read books that feature protagonists who don’t reflect their gender, race, or class.
Joce: What would you like to see happen in the industry in the future?
Mitali: Storytelling and wordplay exploding everywhere — not just via books but on social media, at open mics, rooted in communities, I’d like to see writers collaborating with visual artists and musicians to create a culture of innovative art and story that defines this generation.
Joce: Speaking of the future, what’s next for you?
Mitali: STEEPED IN STORIES: TIMELESS CHILDREN’S NOVELS TO REFRESH OUR TIRED SOULS, a nonfiction book for adults exploring seven children’s classics that I discovered as a child and still re-read to this day, despite the flaws they exhibit that are connected to their place in a particular culture and era. Check out steepedinstories.com for more. Thank you so much for this interview and for your support of my work! It means the world to me.
About the Author
Mitali Perkins (mitaliperkins.com) has written many books for young readers, including You Bring the Distant Near (nominated for a National Book Award) and Rickshaw Girl (adapted into a film by Sleeperwave Productions), all of which explore crossing different kinds of borders. Mitali’s fiction explores poverty, immigration, child soldiers, microcredit, and human trafficking, thanks to living overseas for many years and studying Political Science at Stanford and Public Policy at U.C. Berkeley. Her goal is to make readers laugh or cry, preferably both, as long as their hearts are widening. She lives and writes in the East Bay.