A shorter version of this interview was first published on 22nd November, 2011 in The Star
WHAT stands out for me when I think of Bernice Chauly’s book Growing Up with Ghosts – A Memoir, is the story of her father’s death. It is where the book begins and Chauly’s dreamlike and poetic description of how her three-year-old self deals with the sudden loss of a beloved parent is, for me, the most heartbreaking and compelling thing in this book.
Later, when introduced to the young Bernard – the curious, adventurous trainee teacher, the passionate young lover, the idealistic newly wed – it is my initial vision of him as a loving, devoted father that fixes my attention and makes me want to learn more about him.
His death affected Chauly powerfully, but it was just one of many losses her extended family had to endure. Deep in the heart of the book is the family curse that Chauly seeks to understand. Its almost gothic details, including a pilgrimage to India to visit an ancient snake temple, imbue the book with a sense of mystery and deep, devastating horror.
In our interview (conducted via email), Chauly said the real reason for writing the book was to find ‘the root of the curse’, and understand why all the men in her family died. ‘I grew up haunted by grief, and my grief became a ghost, I had to confront it and finally let it go, she said.
She went on to say that she used ‘ghosts’ as a metaphor ‘for many things – for untold histories, for the voices who lived through difficult times, who were never heard; for things that scare you, and things that come back to haunt you, for the dead whom I mourned, for the dead that my ancestors mourned, the dead who became ghosts, who were forgotten, who never told their stories and who were never heard, and who never got a chance to exorcise their grief.’
Writing the book, Chauly says, was ‘cathartic in every way’, an exorcism of sorts that allowed her to make peace with the ‘ghosts’ and with herself. The author uses the voices of her grandparents and her parents to tell a story of struggle and of hardship, of hope and of love. Chauly’s own narrative binds the different voices together and represents the link between the past and the present.Read More »