“Brooklyn and Bangladesh both alternate between feeling like a homeland or being completely alienating,” says Tanwi Nandini Islam, in an interview about her novel Bright Lines. This feeling of liminality is familiar for anyone who has called two places home. It may be especially familiar to the large immigrant population in Brooklyn, or the second-generation Brooklyn residents who feel the hauntings of the homelands their parents left behind.
The novel Bright Lines is inspired in part by Tanwi’s trips to Bangladesh to visit the village where her parents grew up, and in part by mid 2000s Clinton Hill, where she lived. Bright Lines’ vibrant narrative encompasses issues of immigration, feminism, gender, coming of age, botany, and fashion, to the backdrop of both Brooklyn and Bangladesh.
Tanwi Nandini Islam wrote this cosmopolitan novel while selling rugs on vacation in Kashmir. “By day I sat at my table, half-heartedly selling cashmere—it was the summer of the recession, and people weren’t buying anything—[I was] reading Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, James Baldwin.” The first chapter of Bright Lines, which she wrote that summer, got Tanwi Islam into Brooklyn College’s MFA program.
The novel follows the protagonist Ella, who is orphaned as a child in the aftermath of the Bangladesh Liberation War and moves to Brooklyn to live with the Saleem family. Studious and awkward, she experiences a queer coming of age in the family’s home. Later, the Saleems and Ella travel to Bangladesh, and must reckon with both the past and each other.
Fans of Junot Díaz, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Jhumpa Lahira will be drawn two this novel, which refreshingly reveals the ways in which different generations experience the diaspora.