In a candid conversation with author Balli Kaur Jaswal, we delve into the inspiration, research, and creative process behind her groundbreaking novel, Now You See Us. Through exploring important social themes, empowering migrant workers, and navigating cultural intersections, Jaswal’s work sheds light on the often-invisible voices of Singaporean society.
Unveiling the Inspiration: Tackling Classism, Prejudice, and Women’s Rights
Jaswal reveals that her inspiration for exploring themes of classism, prejudice, and women’s rights in Now You See Us came from a personal experience during her teenage years. “My family moved from Singapore to the Philippines shortly after a Filipina domestic worker was executed for murdering a Singaporean,” she shares. This incident opened her eyes to the gravity of injustice and the impact of class prejudice on real life. It sparked a desire within her to shed light on the vulnerability of migrant workers, who are integral to the success of nations like Singapore but remain voiceless.
Compelling Characters: Breaking Away from Stereotypes
When it came to developing the characters in Now You See Us, Jaswal aimed to challenge prevailing stereotypes of domestic workers in Singapore. She explains, “I wanted to steer away from the binary portrayals of either untrustworthy women, who are looking to take advantage of their employers, or saintly figures, who sacrifice everything and do not have moments of weakness or flaws.” Instead, she sought to humanize these characters, giving them depth and complexity. By doing so, Jaswal created relatable individuals with whom readers could connect on a profound level.
My life and experience of the world is intersectional and multicultural.– Balli Kaur Jaswal
Balancing History and Narrative: Weaving Filipino Politics into the Story
Jaswal emphasizes that the main narrative always took priority when incorporating elements of Filipino politics and history into Now You See Us. She states, “I focused on answering the questions of the story, the characters’ desires, and the obstacles they faced.” By doing so, she ensured that the novel did not become a history lesson but rather a compelling story enriched by its cultural context.
Authentic Portrayals: Researching the Lives of Domestic Workers
To authentically portray the experiences of domestic workers, Jaswal engaged in extensive research. She had conversations with domestic workers themselves, gaining firsthand insights into their lives. Additionally, she immersed herself in their stories by reading first-hand accounts, memoirs, and articles written by domestic workers. This research allowed her to depict their experiences with empathy and authenticity.
In her words, “I spoke to domestic workers and had casual conversations with some employers. I also read some first-hand accounts and memoir pieces by domestic workers to get a sense of what their lives were like and what specific challenges they experienced in Singapore. There were also plenty of articles, news items, national conversations, etc, that emerged over the years whenever the topic of domestic workers’ rights came up. Reading the comment sections in particular gave me a lot of insight into the fears and perceptions surrounding domestic workers.
I focused on answering the questions of the story, the characters’ desires, and the obstacles they faced.– Balli Kaur Jaswal
The Power of the Story: Immersion and Empathy
When asked about her hopes for readers, Jaswal emphasizes that storytelling remains paramount. She states, “Firstly, I hope readers feel immersed in a good story.” However, she also hopes that the novel “pulls the curtain back on Singaporean society,” offering insight into the lives of those who contribute to the nation’s wealth but remain invisible and voiceless.
Challenges and Rewards: Writing as a Woman
As a woman writer, Jaswal acknowledges the challenges she faces during the marketing and categorization of her novels.” I don’t encounter issues during the writing process as a woman, but once the book is out of my hands and being marketed, there’s always the issue of readers categorizing it in a gendered way or regarding it as chick-lit (not that there’s anything wrong with chick-lit – it’s the dismissive attitude towards that genre that bothers me).” However, she believes that discerning readers will ultimately appreciate and connect with her work.
Cultural Intersections: Identity, Belonging, and Today’s Globalized Society
Jaswal seamlessly incorporates themes of culture, identity, and belonging into her narrative. She states, “My life and experience of the world is intersectional and multicultural.”
Balli Kaur Jaswal: Reader vs. Writer
Jaswal discusses the distinct mental spaces she occupies as both a reader and a writer. Reading offers her relaxation and tranquility while writing unleashes a torrent of plotlines and characters in her mind.
She states, “They are two very different things! Reading is certainly more relaxing than writing, but when I’m in the thick of writing a novel, I have a hard time concentrating on reading. So Balli Kaur Jaswal the reader is usually clear-headed and at peace, whereas Balli Kaur Jaswal the writer has lots of plotlines and characters rioting in her mind and keeping her up at night.”
Conclusion: Unveiling the Invisible Voices
Now You See Us stands as a testament to Balli Kaur Jaswal’s storytelling prowess and her dedication to giving voice to the marginalized. Through its exploration of social themes, empowering portrayal of migrant workers, and thought-provoking narrative, the novel sparks conversations on classism, prejudice, and women’s rights. As readers immerse themselves in the pages of Now You See Us, they will encounter compelling characters and a story that lingers long after the final page is turned.
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