Meena is the youngest of six daughters. Her dad died when she was small, leaving her mom to raise her and her sisters on her own. As a high school student, she begins to relish her independence, but finds it difficult to balance her family’s traditional views with her desire to fit in with her peers.
And as she grows up, that duality is only amplified, as she’s pressured into an arranged marriage and must again weigh her own feelings against those of others.
Meena is the main character in Gurjinder Basran’s premiere novel, Everything Was Good-bye.
While the story is not an autobiography, the author says it’s definitely “informed” by her experiences and observations.
It was when she realized her personal journalling and desire to reconcile her childhood experiences was turning to something quite fictional and different from her own life that she decided to write a novel.
“I really liked it. That was when I knew ‘okay, maybe you’re a writer...’ ”
As an Indo-Canadian girl growing up in North Delta, Basran, now a 38-year-old married mother of two boys, remembers being very much a minority in her community.
“It’s hard for people to believe because Surrey/North Delta 20 years ago was a really different place than it is now as far as demographics go,” she says.
Like the character, Basran has five older sisters and her father passed away when she was just two years old in Canada, leaving her mom to raise the kids as a single parent – something relatively uncommon in Indian culture.
“I wanted to be independent and do what the other kids were doing,” she recalls.
Yet she didn’t have those freedoms, not only because she was an Indian girl, but because she had no male figure in her life.
The desire to fit in was always countered by the deep respect she had for her mom’s often difficult situation – raising multiple girls in a country where she didn’t even speak the language.
The character Meena’s life strays from Basran’s in many other ways, however.
While Basran married her college sweetheart, Meena’s marriage is arranged – a relationship that is strained, in part, by heavy cultural and parental expectations.
A visit later in life by Liam, Meena’s Caucasian first love, only confuses her further.
“It’s a book about a woman’s desire to be free, to find her voice,” says Basran.
Meena, she says, is so concerned with pleasing everyone else, that she doesn’t know what she wants.
“She just knows what she doesn’t want.”
The book, which took about six years “from spark to actual publication,” deals with culturally taboo topics such as premarital sex, adultery and what the author calls “subtle” spousal abuse.
“It does so,” says Basran, “not in a preachy way, but in a way that’s quite organic to the story.”
Basran says she didn’t necessarily choose the topic for her first novel, winner of the 2010 Search for the Great B.C. Novel Contest, but that the subject matter chose her.
“I was really writing for my own personal reconciliation and never had an intention to publish until I realized that I was actually beginning to fictionalize and was enjoying the craft of writing.”
And it was never her intention to write a cross-cultural love story, but simply pen a story about a young woman who was struggling.
Heartbreaking and beautiful, Everything Was Good-bye is an unforgettable story about family, love, and loss, and the complexities of living in two different cultural worlds.
This article first appeared HERE.