In 'Mirror Made of Rain,' Naheed Phiroze Patel examines young womanhood in India Naheed Phiroze Patel's debut novel Mirror Made of Rain is out in the U.S. this week.

'Mirror Made of Rain' looks at how patterns of self-destruction are inherited

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Indian author Naheed Phiroze Patel says she's always been drawn to unlikeable characters. So it's not surprising that Noomi, the strong-willed protagonist of her novel "Mirror Made Of Rain," is rude, angry and straight up self-destructive at times. Noomi grows up in a high society circle in India. Her parents' friends are high-powered lawyers and business tycoons. And invitations to parties are telling of whether you are in or out with her city's most wealthy and influential. The novel is a coming-of-age story about a woman raised by a mother struggling with addiction and an absentee father, all in a social circle where women have to hide their vices, their pains and the wrongs committed against them. For Patel, Noomi is an emotionally conflicted character.

NAHEED PHIROZE PATEL: So Noomi is a young woman who grows up in this, I would say, upper-middle-class Indian family. And her family is, ostensibly, very modern. Like, the women are allowed to drink and all that stuff. But she has a mother who has not had the support that she needed for her mental health. And the mother passes down that trauma to her daughter as, like - almost like an inheritance. And it's about Noomi kind of navigating this really constricting social structure of small-town, conservative India and how she kind of tries or fails to break free of that mold. And it's also about how, you know, a person like Noomi is really, like, encouraged all the time to look at herself through the eyes of people watching her because, like...

FADEL: Yeah.

PATEL: ...You know, in India and, I'm sure, in other places as well, we had this phrase, log kya kahenge, which is basically, what will people say? And that's such a determinant factor for, I think, a lot of young women growing up in India and elsewhere.

FADEL: Yeah. You talk about the relationship between Noomi and her mother. And in the book, her mother is struggling with addiction, serious addiction that impacts Noomi's life, impacts Noomi's father's life. They're living in a multigenerational home. And this inheritance - it fascinates me the way that all of what she resents in her mother is something that Noomi begins to become. Can you talk about that relationship?

PATEL: Yeah. So I think one of the questions I really wanted to explore in the book was how to mother when there is a vacuum of support and a vacuum of care. And I think that Noomi's mother is left to the wolves in the sense that she's not provided with the support that she needs from her family and from society in general to be an adequate or good mother to Noomi. I think the novel kind of explores, what is the failure to mother mean? And why is it such a lonely failure? Like, I feel like, you know, when men fail at parenthood, like, society steps in to help. There's a lot more empathy. But when a mother fails, she kind of fails all by herself. And, you know, Noomi, you know, she blames her mother for everything. She kind of joins in in not, like, having any empathy for her mother. But she is, in a way, slowly turning into her mother. And, yeah, I felt like that was the most natural, organic way to write this relationship.

FADEL: Now, we're speaking at a time that your book is being released here in the U.S. But this book is already out in India. And I'm curious just how it was received because it's not uncontroversial topics that you wrote about.

PATEL: I was actually really surprised, pleasantly surprised, at how well it was received. But there was also, like - definitely, there was, like, a really wide diversity of opinion about the book, which is also interesting to me because some people just really, really did not like Noomi. And they felt so angry at her that they wrote in their reviews that they would like to physically assault her...

FADEL: Oh, my gosh.

PATEL: ...Which I thought was - yes. And this is - these were written by women. So I thought that was incredibly interesting because I think that kind of my analysis is that Noomi kind of evoked a lot of internalized misogyny. And I found it really interesting to see it kind of come to the front or bubble up to the surface in that way.

FADEL: Now, your book tackles some pretty tough topics - addiction, rape, shame. Women are brought up with - in this case, it's in India. But I'm sure women reading this will relate from their own cultures. I definitely know that I did. But these are often topics that aren't tackled head on. And yet, in your novel, they're front and center. Why did you choose to tackle such difficult storylines? And what do you want the reader to walk away with?

PATEL: I think that the answer is kind of in the title because, you know, when we were discussing, you know, possible titles - and we saw that mirrors play a huge role in the book and how Noomi perceives herself and how society encourages us to perceive ourselves through the eyes of others. I wanted a reader to sit with somebody who is not like them at all and still, like, identify or feel their pain or feel their joy, you know? I felt like this book is something that I could write best. And I felt like it was something that needs to be written.

FADEL: Let me ask about that. You said, it's a story that needed to be told. Why did it need to be told?

PATEL: Because I think that when we talk about patriarchy or we talk about, you know, the rights of women or the state of women in India, we think of the bigger - like, the more ostensibly horrific things - right? - like dowries or, you know, all sorts of things that are going on that capture the headlines. But there are these small, everyday violences that occur to women, which nobody really talks about, and these small microaggressions and the way that, you know, society fails women, in a very subtle way, under - like an undercurrent of patriarchy. And I noticed that. And I couldn't stop noticing it. For example, the way society treats female addicts over men, the extent that women's anger - and Noomi is a really angry character, and I think her mother is also a very angry person - the way that women's anger is pathologized and it's kind of negated. While the anger of men, to a large extent, is kind of mythologized. And it's - you know, it's deemed righteous.

FADEL: Yeah. Naheed Phiroze Patel is the author of "Mirror Made Of Rain." Thank you so much for speaking with us. I appreciate it.

PATEL: Thank you.


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