Ali, Samina 1969-
ALI, Samina 1969-
PERSONAL: Born 1969, in Hyderabad, India; immigrated to United States; daughter of Mir and Ashraf Ali; married (separated); children: Ishmael. Education: University of Minnesota, B.A. (English; summa cum laude), 1993; University of Oregon, M.F.A. Religion: Muslim.
AWARDS, HONORS: Recipient of grants from Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and Rona Jaffe Foundation.
Madras on Rainy Days (novel), Farrar, Straus and Giroux (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to numerous anthologies, including Our Feet Walk the Sky, Aunt Lute Books (San Francisco, CA), 1993; Words Matter: Conversations with Asian American Writers, edited by King-Kok Cheung, University of Hawai'i Press (Honolulu, Hawai'i), 2000; Literacy Matters: Reading and Writing in the Second Wave of Multiculturalism; and rattapallax 8.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A novel about three Muslim-American women in California.
SIDELIGHTS: Samina Ali was born in India and spent her childhood spending part of each year in India and part in the United States. She attended school in both countries and became fully immersed in both cultures, and her writing reflects this unique cultural experience.
Ali's first novel, Madras on Rainy Days, was published in 2004. A semi-autobiographical work, it tells the story of Layla, a young woman raised in both India and the United States who returns to Hyderabad, India, to enter into an arranged marriage with a stranger. Layla brings with her the Western ideas and experience of the freedoms she gained while in the United States, as well as a legacy of secrets involving a relationship she had with an American man. She soon finds out that her new husband has secrets of his own, and the two struggle to create a personal peace against a background of Hindu-Muslim violence occurring in India.
Reviewers differed in their assessment of the plot of Madras on Rainy Days, but generally agreed that Ali does an admirable job describing the lives of Muslims in India. According to Marina Budhos in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Ali "succeeds wonderfully in capturing the poignant dilemma of second-generation Indian-Americans who are brought up in the West but are expected to conform to their parents' frozen idea of India—while India itself has moved on to its own mingled reality." Kristine Huntley, writing in Booklist, called Ali's debut a "powerful, atmospheric novel of modern-day India." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly termed Madras on Rainy Days "painstakingly detailed but strained," while a writer for Kirkus Reviews praised Ali's descriptions of Hyderabad customs and ceremonies. Similarly, Joanna Smith Rakoff, writing for the New York Times Book Review, noted that although the book "descends into melodrama" at points, it "is livened by Ali's astute, almost anthropological commentary on contemporary Hyderabad society."
During the period when she was writing Madras on Rainy Days, Ali suffered two brain hemorrhages that occurred while she was giving birth to her son. While this illness left her disabled, Ali was determined to keep writing, because she views her purpose in life as telling the story of Muslim women. "Being a writer is stitched into my skin and holds me together," she was quoted as saying in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "My job now is to send it out and help others. The recovery was fueled with this knowledge." Budhos concluded that Madras on Rainy Days "has given us something new. . . . [with its] fierce and shimmering intensity."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 15, 2003, Kristine Huntley, review of Madras on Rainy Days, p. 570.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2003, review of Madras on Rainy Days, p. 1237.
Ms., winter, 2003, review of Madras on Rainy Days.
New York Times Book Review, February 8, 2004, Joanna Smith Rakoff, review of Madras on Rainy Days, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, January 5, 2004, review of Madras on Rainy Days, p. 41.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), April 11, 2004, Sarah T. Williams, "Ishmael and the Novel," p. F1; February 15, 2004, Marina Budhos, "Madras on Rainy Days Shimmers with Intensity."
Rediff.com,http://in.rediff.com/news/2004/jan/29inter.htm/ (January 29, 2004), "Novelist Samina Ali Makes Waves" (interview).
Samina Ali Home Page,http://www.saminaali.com (August 30, 2004).