I recently reviewed Anish Majumdar's book The Isolation Door and found it an intimate yet brutal read. You can read my review here and make sure you join in the GIVEAWAY (3 copies, US/Can) which can be found at the end of my review post.
I am happy to welcome the author on Guiltless Reading to shares his insights and how his personal story influenced his novel. Welcome, Anish!
Tell us about your book, The Isolation Door.
When you grow up with that kind of insecurity—forced committals in mental hospitals and difficult periods of rehabilitation, witnessing paranoid behavior and changes in personality so severe that the person you love becomes all but unrecognizable—it fundamentally changes how you function in the world and your dreams of what the future might hold.
Amidst his mother’s latest breakdown, Neil attends college, falls in love, and discovers the magic of true friendships. But it’s all clouded in secrecy. These people hold the promise of a new life, yet how can he tell them the truth about his mother and how it’s affected his family without marking himself as damaged in the process? How do you grasp happiness when isolation is the strongest feeling you’ve ever known? Finding an answer to this lies at the heart of this book, and it’s something millions of other family members across the United States affected by mental illness in a loved one are struggling to answer.
What prompted you to write this novel?
Necessity. Up until age 25, secrecy was how I dealt with my mother’s continuing battle with schizophrenia and its effect on me.
I was working as a professional film/TV actor in Montreal, trying on the mask of different personas at work and continuing to turn the trick in my personal life. I had serious relationships with two women who loved me, but the thought of telling them something other than a made-up version of my past was inconceivable. I had great friends in Montreal and Toronto, but the fear that one day this horrible skeleton in my closet would be revealed always caused me to burn bridges preemptively. The end result was living alone with no one but my cat for company, sinking into a bottomless well of depression, unable to find a way out.
Out of desperation, I began writing some of my memories down on paper. As I spent more and more time facing these demons, a magical alchemy took place and a new world, filled with people I’d come to love like Neil Kapoor, began coming out of the woodwork. I discovered a talent for writing novels, but more importantly, I gained the perspective necessary to see that my past did not have to define my future. By sharing my experiences and allowing them free reign, I was able to leave my old life in Montreal behind and start anew in the U.S. By being honest about myself, I struck up a relationship with Erin, the woman who’d become my wife in 2009. Today we enjoy a happy life with a baby boy and way too many pets. It’s a million miles removed from the isolation that threatened to drown me just a few short years ago, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Tell us how much of yourself you put into the character of Neil.
In many ways, Neil is a younger version of myself—less sure of himself, more haunted, driven by a furious desire to get out, that conflicts with the love for family at every turn.
I worked hard to really communicate the internal thought processes he experiences throughout the course of the book to give readers a sense of just how messy things can get emotionally. Yes, you should love your parents. But when any sense of normality has been stripped away after years of serving as a caretaker, it’s normal to feel resentful, confused, even furiously angry. On the flip side, there is an incredible sense of gratitude when you strike up relationships with new people.
Understanding the darkness in a way few others do, it is impossible not to be truly grateful for those moments in the light: holding a girl who loves you extra close, treasuring the company of true friends. Neil is a version of myself on the precipice between light and darkness. Like him, there was a very real chance that I’d never make it out. But during the course of writing this book I did, and ultimately this hope is present in the story.
What do you hope readers will walk away with?
I hope readers gain an intimate sense of the burden carried by the family members of someone suffering from a mental illness, as well as the unique perspective it affords in how you see life. For every challenge faced in looking after someone with such a disease comes a greater amount of self- understanding and resiliency.
It’s very easy to say you love someone—it’s in the doing, looking after them when they can’t look after themselves, taking on the sacrifice willingly because they are as much a part of you as an arm or a leg where love is truly tested. To this day, there is a special bond between my father, mother, younger brother and me because we were all tasked with the challenge of dealing with a monster called schizophrenia. The monster never goes away, but those who face it grow closer through facing it. I think this kind of courage is something that should be celebrated, and I hope that readers make the extra effort to reach out to others who are going through similar circumstances.
Where can we find out more about your work?
I share personal stories on my blog, www.dashamerican.com. I also keep fans updated on articles and other pieces that are coming out through Twitter @dashamerican. Finally, I love speaking at high schools, colleges, and organizations about my experiences and the importance of breaking the wall of silence that surrounds mental illness—interested parties can contact me directly at anish [at] dashamerican.com.
Neil Kapoor, 23, is desperate to create a life beyond the shadow of his mother’s schizophrenia. Years of successive relapses and rehabilitation’s have forced his father into the role of caretaker and Neil into that of silent witness. But there is no light within this joyless ritual, and any hope for the future rests on finding an exit.
Amidst her latest breakdown, Neil attends drama school in pursuit of a role that might better express the truth of who he is. What started as a desperate gambit becomes the fragile threads of a new life. A relationship blooms with Emily, and each finds strength – and demons – in the other. New friendships with Quincy and Tim grow close and complex. But the emotional remove needed to keep these two lives separate destabilizes the family. Neil’s father, the one constant in the chaos, buckles under the pressure. Enlisting the aid of an Aunt with means and questionable motives, Neil plies ever-greater deceptions to keep the darkness at bay. But this time there will be no going back. As his mother falls to terrifying depths a decision must be made: family or freedom?
In this powerful fiction debut, Anish Majumdar shines a much-needed light into the journey of those coping with serious mental disorders and the loved ones who walk alongside them. Incisive and filled with moments of strange beauty, it marks the arrival of a unique voice in American letters.
About Anish Majumdar
As a child growing up in Montreal, Canada, Anish Majumdar’s first creative writing lessons came courtesy of his mother, a former English teacher. Witnessing her struggle with schizophrenia had a profound impact and inspired The Isolation Door, his first novel. His non-fiction work, appearing in many publications, has garnered Independent Press Association Awards for Feature Writing and Investigative Journalism. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He lives with his wife, son, and a growing menagerie of pets in Rochester, NY.
Connect with Anish: Website - Twitter - Google + - Facebook
This Q&A is part of the TLC Book Tour.
Check out the rest of the tour here.
Check out the rest of the tour here.