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First Fiction Friday: Chocolate Cherry Chai

Taslim Burkowicz’s debut novel Chocolate Cherry Chai (Roseway Publishing) follows a young Maya Mubeen as she leaves behind the pressures of her traditional Indian family to take on the world. A multi-generational story, the novel looks at the immigrant experience, motherhood, and love from the perspective of women of colour.

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Chocolate Cherry Chai (Roseway Publishing, 2017)Who: Taslim Burkowicz grew up in a Gujarati family who shared their love for aromatic South Asian cooking and storytelling. Her travels to India, Africa and islands in Asia developed her passion for creative writing. Taslim taught in elementary schools in Japan for four years and has a bachelor’s degree in political science and education from Simon Fraser University. Chocolate Cherry Chai is her first novel. She resides with her husband and three boys in Surrey, B.C., where she focuses on writing and running.Why you need to read this now: Traversing the globe and historical eras, Chocolate Cherry Chai binds together themes of familial pressures, the immigrant experience, motherhood, love and loss into a poetic narrative.It is about a young, free-spirited Maya Mubeen who leaves behind the pressures of family, marriage and tradition for a life of experience and adventure—proving to herself, and her mother, that she is anything but a typical Indian girl. After diving with sharks in the Philippines and a sordid breakup amidst the bustling nightlife of Tokyo, Maya’s sense of who she is—and where home is—starts to falter.An ancient chai-making ritual holds the key to Maya’s past and present, unlocking the secret lives of her mother, Nina, who lived through Idi Amin’s rule in Uganda, her grandmother, Nargis, forced into marriage at thirteen, her great-grandmother, Sukaina, an underground radical socialist who fled an abusive husband, and lastly, her great-great grandmother, Zainab, who left behind a luxurious life in India.X plus Y:Chocolate Cherry Chai brings to mind Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club, in that it also explores a multigenerational perspective of women of colour. Rather than Chinese American, the main character in Chocolate Cherry Chai is an Indian Canadian girl finding her place of home and identity through the stories of her maternal ancestors. While Tan takes us back through stories of China and allows the reader to explore a time of concubines and immigration, Burkowicz brings the reader to Idi Amin’s dictatorship in Uganda and the journey of Indians to Africa by boat. Tan’s characters relate to another in feasts of food and games of mah jong; likewise, Burkowicz’s characters bond through the art of Indian cuisine and the ritual of chai making.Chocolate Cherry Chai also is reminiscent of Joanna Harris’ Chocolat. Both rely on a sensory-rich writing style that allows the reader to explore the five senses while reading. For example, when Harris describes the making of chocolate, one can feel the touch of the melted chocolate, and feel the delicious liquid seep between their fingers. Much the same, Burkowicz urges the reader to partake in the reading experience by smelling the chai’s spices of spicy fennel and cloves brewing, or taste the fragrant curries being cooked. Both Chocolat and Chocolate Cherry Chai have a magical element in their book — in the case of the latter, the chai proves to be the magical vehicle that allows the main character to travel back in time and experience the lives of her foremothers.
*  *  *Thanks to Curran at Roseway Publishing for sharing Chocolate Cherry Chai with us. For more First Fiction Friday, click here.