D’Souza’s Whiteman won the 2007 Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His second novel, The Konkans, explores a contemporary Indian-American family struggling with the pride and pain of their Goan heritage.
This feels like a very personal book. Is the material close to home?
Oh, yeah, for sure. It held me back at first. The book comes out in February and sometimes I have these panic attacks: I mean, my family is going to read this! But it’s not a fictional memoir. I do draw on stories from real life, but real life itself is boring. Or not boring but—
You can’t just copy it down on the page?
Right. I actually did a lot of research for this book and had a bigger picture in mind than just telling my family story... issues of colonialization, inherited guilt. I’m really excited about making people aware of a group they didn’t know anything about.
Did you feel close to your Konkan side as a kid?
I grew up hearing Konkan stories, eating Konkan food, hearing Konkan language. I didn’t always feel at home in my neighborhood in Chicago. But then I went to India when I was 19, thinking it would be a kind of homecoming, and it was definitely not a homecoming. The taxi driver said welcome home and then drove around the city for an hour with the meter running when my hotel was a block away.
Whiteman was so well received. Did you feel pressure to avoid a sophomore slump?
Yeah, that was part of it. Whiteman was a dream come true, and the reviews were so positive. And then suddenly I was getting into magazines, Playboy, the New Yorker. It was crippling in a way, but important to go on that roller-coaster ride. It was a tough year after Whiteman. I went through 14 months of drought, just one story, one poem. I was really frustrated, so I took some time off and then one night, boom, the first line of The Konkans came to me. It was a tough book emotionally, but once it got its legs, I was consumed, working 10, 12 hours a day.
Are you working on anything now?
I’m about halfway through another novel, but I’m thinking of putting it down for a bit. My two books have some pretty dark stuff in them. And I read The Road recently, which was great, but it fed some of my fears about the state of the world. I think I’d like to lighten up my palette, find the moments of humor in the darkness.