(Marina Tamar Buhhos)
Born in Queens, NY; daughter of Walter (a teacher) and Shirley (a teacher) Budhos; married Marc Aronson (an author and editor), September 14, 1997. Education: Cornell University, bachelor's degree; Brown University, master's degree.
Author, journalist, and educator. William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ, assistant professor of English; has taught writing and literature at Vassar College, City College of New York, Eugene Lang College, Goddard Collage, and the Writers' Voice. Has also worked as an editor and a contributing writer for San Francisco Arts Commission, National Council for Research on Women, and Forum for Women in Higher Education.
South Asian Journalists Association.
Fulbright scholar, 1992-93; Rona Jaffe Award for Women Writers; Exceptional Media Merit Award; South Asian Journalists Association Award.
House of Waiting (novel), Global City Press (New York, NY), 1995.
The Professor of Light (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1999.
Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers (nonfiction for young adults), Holt (New York, NY), 1999.
Ask Me No Questions (young adult novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to periodicals, including Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Dissent, Ms., Caribbean Writer, Asian Pacific American Journal, and Nation.
Marina Budhos is the daughter of an Indo-Guyanese father and a Jewish-American mother who met during the 1950s when her father worked at the Indian Consulate in New York City. Budhos grew up in a multicultural, multiracial community of United Nations families, which she feels has shaped who she is and what she writes.
In Budhos's debut novel, House of Waiting, set in the 1950s, Sarah Weisberg, the adopted daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, falls in love with Roland Sing, a native of British Guyana who is of Indian heritage. Soon after their marriage at city hall, which alienates Sarah's parents, Roland returns to Guyana to join in a political movement. Sarah stays and relies on his friends for companionship. They spend a summer in the Catskills, where Sarah discovers she is pregnant and her friends face the prejudice of the locals as they try to make a home of the rundown house they are occupying. Sarah travels to Guyana to bring her husband back to the United States, and when the novel ends she has not yet given birth to the child. "The novel's imagery is strong, reinforcing the state of suspension suggested by the title," wrote Jill Menkes Kushner in Literary Review. Library Journal contributor David A. Berona added that Budhos "exhibits a rich style and skillful insight into her characters that will enchant readers." A Publishers Weekly reviewer thought the plot "is often obvious," but added that "while imperfect, this debut clearly marks Budhos as a writer to watch."
The Professor of Light is the story of a multicultural family headed by a fragile and obsessed philosophy professor driving himself toward a nervous breakdown. A Kirkus Reviews contributor considered the story "underplotted," but added that "there's much to admire in this intriguingly meditative novel." Warren Singh, a Guyanese philosophy professor of Indian extraction, is married to Sonia, a Jewish woman from Brooklyn. The narrator, their fifteen-year-old daughter Megan, is her father's closest companion and helps him with his work to understand the dual nature of light as both particle and wave. Although the family lives in the United States, most of the action occurs in England where they spend summers with Warren's sister and her husband. There is friction over money, and Guyanese folklore and a curse influence their lives. Megan is approaching adulthood and must break from her father in order to free herself.
"Budhos uses the resources of fiction skillfully to open up Megan's world," observed Judith Grossman in the Women's Review of Books. "She turns the focus as much outward to Megan's father, Warren, and his troubled family as inward to Megan herself; and she interpolates stories from Warren's own Caribbean heritage, illuminating his mental landscape as it blends memory, reason, and fantasy—a landscape in which Megan will wander until she too is almost lost." "There is justice, too," wrote Grossman, "in the way Megan's future is saved by the women of the family, so long dismissed as domestic airheads; in a dire emergency, they know how to salvage whatever's possible from the wreckage." A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Professor of Light a "luminous" novel that "reaches a satisfying crescendo in which Meggie must reimagine everything she knows and loves in order to remain herself." Library Journal contributor Ellen Flexman wrote that Budhos "has effectively captured both a young girl's pain in growing up and a father's descent into madness." Booklist reviewer Margaret Flanagan judged the novel "an achingly beautiful narrative that resonates with truth and compassion."
Budhos spoke with twenty fourteen-to nineteen-year olds in New York, California, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin about their experiences adapting to life in the United States for Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers. "This groundbreaking book is distinguished by its author's literary style," said Nell D. Beram in Horn Book. Remix contains fourteen interviews and six contributions written by the teens themselves, who came from countries that include Guyana, the Dominican Republic, the Ukraine, Laos, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh. The text is accompanied by black and white photographs. The interviews reflect the concerns common to all teens, and those exclusive to those who are adapting to a new culture and at the same time honoring their own cultures, within their families and communities. The interviews show that, in spite of adopting the styles of their native peers, these teens still have to deal with various forms of discrimination. Diane S. Marton, reviewing Remix for the School Library Journal, called it "a valuable book, particularly in communities with large numbers of new arrivals." Booklist reviewer Randy Meyer called it "a dynamic starting point for exploring the rich landscape of the immigrant experience."
A related work, Ask Me No Questions, Budhos's first young-adult novel, looks at the American immigrant experience in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. The Hossains, a Muslim family who emigrated from Bangladesh to the United States years earlier, have been living in New York City under an expired tourist visa. The children have adapted to life in a foreign country: eighteen-year-old Aisha is a star pupil with college aspirations, while fourteen-year-old Nadira, the book's narrator, lives in the shadow of her older sister. When the U.S. government passes the Patriot Act, which tightens regulations against undocumented immigrants, the effects on the Bangladeshi community are severe; many people are arrested and deported. Fearing problems with the authorities, the Hossain family hurriedly decides to seek asylum in Canada, but they are refused entry. The situation worsens when Abba, the girl's father, is detained at the border by immigration officials. While their mother remains behind in a shelter, the girls return to Queens and try to reestablish a normal life. When Aisha loses faith, however, Nadira must "reveal her own strength and find a way to reunite her nearly shattered family," observed School Library Journal contributor Kathleen Isaacs.
Budhos told Cynthia Leitich Smith on the Cynsations Web site that the inspiration for Ask Me No Questions came from a number of sources. Over the years, Budhos had stayed in touch with the immigrant groups she worked with on Remix and learned that the members of the Bangladeshi community, many of whom were undocumented, had been particularly hard hit by the political fallout from the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Around this same time, Budhos began recalling memories of her father, a Guyanese immigrant, who had a constant fear of losing his citizenship. In particular, the author remembered a routine traffic stop in Canada that terrified her father. As she told Smith, "that experience brought back how under the surface, for an immigrant, particularly one of color, that sense of being an outsider, of having something taken away, is never very far away."
Budhos also told Smith that the greatest challenge she faced while writing Ask Me No Questions was finding "the balance between the political and social pressures and the family dynamics. I did not want this to be seen as an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ novel—it needed to be as rich in literary and psychological dynamics. I also wanted the characters to be recognizable to an American audience. … At the same time, I wanted American kids to feel what it's like when you want the same thing—a future here—and yet it's somehow just out of your reach, or taken away from you."
Ask Me No Questions received strong reviews. "This is a powerful story," wrote Claire Rosser in Kliatt, adding that Budhos "creates fully realized characters to help us understand the complexities of the immigration system." Horn Book contributor Deirdre F. Baker remarked: "Nadira and Aisha's strategies for surviving and succeeding in high school offer sharp insight into the narrow margins between belonging and not belonging," and a Kirkus Reviews critic deemed the work "a perceptive peek into the lives of foreigners on the fringe."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 15, 1999, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Professor of Light, p. 1289; September 15, 1999, Randy Meyer, review of Remix: Conversations with Immigrant Teenagers, p. 246; December 15, 2005, Hazel Rochman, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 46.
Christian Science Monitor, June 14, 1999, review of The Professor of Light, p. 19.
Horn Book, January, 2000, Nell D. Beram, review of Remix, p. 93; March-April, 2006, Deirdre F. Baker, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 182.
Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1999, review of The Professor of Light, p. 82; December 15, 2005, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 1319.
Kliatt, January, 2006, Claire Rosser, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 5.
Library Journal, July, 1995, David A. Berona, review of House of Waiting, p. 117; December, 1998, Ellen Flexman, review of The Professor of Light, p. 152.
Literary Review, spring, 1996, Jill Menkes Kushner, review of House of Waiting, p. 443.
New York Times Book Review, September 12, 1999, Henry Shukman, "Weird Science."
Publishers Weekly, July 3, 1995, review of House of Waiting, p. 57; January 4, 1999, review of The Professor of Light, p. 72; February 6, 2006, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 70.
School Library Journal, November, 1999, Diane S. Marton, review of Remix, p. 170; April, 2006, Kathleen Isaacs, review of Ask Me No Questions, p. 136.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1999, Judith Grossman, "Daddy's Girl," p. 46.
Cynsations Web site,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (February 7, 2006), "Author Interview: Marina Budhos on Ask Me No Questions."
Marina Budhos Home Page,http://www.marinabudhos.com (September 1, 2006).
South Asian Women's NETwork,http://www.sawnet.org/ (September 1, 2006), "Marina Budhos."