*Content Note: domestic violence, assault*
As the cover quote describes, this book is so raw and real. Can you walk us through what it was like writing a book of this nature as your first novel?
Writing “Her Brave Journey” was such an amazing experience—it was tough and emotional because the subject matter was so delicate, and the writing process was intense because the story is so powerful. There were many times I felt like giving up because I wasn’t sure how my friends and family would react to the intensity of the story, but I told myself that I have a responsibility to so many others who could learn from Kiara’s story. So anytime I felt demotivated from writing or felt like changing the subject altogether, I put myself in Kiara’s shoes and tried to feel her experiences. Feeling her emotions is what helped me continue the writing process.
Kiara, the protagonist, endures a lot of pain at various points in her life, but she takes charge of situations on her own terms. I really admired that! What (or who) inspired you to write this character?
My whole life I have known so many women and men who have fought tough circumstances and single-handedly took charge of their situations. Kiara’s life is a fictionalized story inspired by a collection of stories I have personally heard from a variety of women in similar situations. I have gathered these stories from others and am sharing them with the hope of providing a voice to anyone that has not yet found the courage to speak. This novel is dedicated to all of those women who have endured so much because they had to live up to society’s expectations of the life they “should” have. They are my inspiration.
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You describe Kiara’s childhood self as timid, shy, and obedient – descriptors that are not too far from home. Do you find that these characterizations follow through to womanhood, and is that what we see happening to Kiara in the book?
Like many of us, it took time and life experience for Kiara to evolve into a fierce woman. However, we all face circumstances that trigger behaviors that take us back to our younger days. No matter how much we’ve overcome as adults, we still have moments of childhood vulnerabilities that follow us in certain situations just like Kiara did. This is why the chapter titled “Loss of Power” is a big one.
As an adult, she finally overcomes those traits from childhood which made her fragile. However, at some point when she’s trying to make her marriage work, she begins sacrificing each of those strengths, such as her outspokenness, sense of humor, ability to say ‘no,’ and her independence. During her marriage, she loses the inner power she worked her entire life to gain. And just like the little girl we meet in the beginning of the story who thought tattling was wrong, Kiara avoids telling her family about the bullies. So, yes only these moments take her back to her childhood. Although her marriage temporarily pulled her back to her old behaviors, she eventually overcomes this loss of power and remembers her inner strengths once again. Gradually, she is back to being the fierce and loving woman she is as an adult.
There are several moments in the book where Kiara feels responsible for the feelings that inspired violence from her partner. During your research for the book, did you find that this feeling of responsibility is common amongst South Asian women?
Well, it’s common for victims in abusive relationships to feel responsible whether you’re in or outside of the South Asian community. But yes, in this culture, it’s so common for people to think “what will people say?” Our social structure is so focused on only keeping the family intact and this takes priority over individual wellbeing. This is why when Kiara experiences domestic violence, she initially interpreted it as a personal failure – instead of assigning responsibility to the perpetrator, she asked herself “What am I doing to make him so upset? How can I fix this?”
In a culture like ours, where we place so much importance upon how other people perceive us, there is a pressure to keep up appearances of having a perfect life. I find that many South Asian women react to domestic violence in the way Kiara did in order to avoid disappointing their community – even if it’s at the cost of their own personal happiness.
The theme of domestic violence in the book will certainly not come as a surprise, especially to South Asian readers. Why do you think it important to share stories like Kiara’s?
Even in today’s #MeToo era, the topic of domestic violence is still obscured in the South Asian community. This comes back to what I mentioned before about the pressure to appear to have a perfect life because we emphasize maintaining a good reputation. In the South Asian community, a huge part of that reputation includes being (and staying) married. This means that a lot of people, particularly women, put up with things as heinous as domestic violence.
By sharing Kiara’s story, I hope that people realize that they always have a choice. At the end of the day, no one else is going to share in your suffering, so screw what other people think and say. Make decisions that are going to keep you healthy and happy.
I loved the quote, “you are the only problem you will ever have, and you will be the only solution.” Could you elaborate on what this means to you?
I first heard that quote from Bob Proctor (self-help author and philosopher) and it really resonated with me. What it means to me is that a lot of our problems are in our minds and are due to self-doubt. Sometimes we gaslight ourselves and keep walking through revolving doors. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true that only we are the solutions to these mind games that cause our own insanity.
How this quote links to Kiara’s story is that lot of challenges she faces are because of the inner demons she has to fight back. Whether it is fighting difficult people, battling tough circumstances, overcoming insecurities, or just learning self-love. Ultimately, only she is the solution to her problems.
What are your hopes for people reading this book?
You know, when my editors were reviewing my manuscript, they said they want to soften my character. At the end of the story, the one thing they want Kiara to understand is that despite her tough experiences, she realizes that there is still a lot of love, compassion, and forgiveness in the world. And after my editors explained this to me, it was such an ‘Aha’ moment. And that is what I hope my readers takeaway from this book. I don’t want them feeling sorry for my character, but instead have empathy and respect for her. Forgiving others and yourself despite all the challenges you’ve overcome isn’t easy.
Although this book is a fictionalized story that sums up the experiences of many real women, it shows Kiara living through her emotional transformation to eventually discover her inner strength and self-love. In my heart, I feel readers will relate to Kiara to in some way whether it’s the childhood version, the naïve young adult, or the fierce woman.
You can keep up to date with Swati Singh’s work and buy a copy of “Her Brave Journey” here!