Balli Kaur Jaswal grew up in Singapore, Japan, Russia and the Philippines. She attended the creative writing programs in Hollins University and George Mason University in the US. In 2007, she won the David TK Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where she wrote Inheritance, her first novel, published by Sleepers Publishing in February 2013.
Currently, Jaswal teaches VCE English in a secondary school in Melbourne.
Inheritance is a story about a traditional family grappling with their rapidly modernising surroundings. It is a nation’s coming-of-age story, seen through the sharp lens of a traditional Punjabi family as it gradually unravels. Set in Singapore between the 1970’s and 1990’s, Inheritance follows the familial fissures that develop after teenaged Amrit disappears in the middle of the night. Although her absence is brief, she returns as a different person.
In this interview with Kitaab’s editor Zafar Anjum, Jaswal discusses the journey of her first novel from its genesis to its publication.
Inheritance is your debut novel. How did the idea of this multi-generational saga come to you?
The characters came to me before the story did. When they started interacting with each other and conflicts began to arise, the story was born. In rising Asia, there is a palpable tension between tradition and modernity. The characters from different generations play out these tensions – they’re living proof of one country’s uneasy balancing act of past and present. As the landscape of Singapore changes, the characters have to decide between adjusting to them or completely retreating.