17 November 2014

Writing a Historical Novel: From Family Story to “Inspired” Characters By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar


A powerful tale of intermingled violence,
love and ambition. 

Available on Amazon US and Amazon UK 

I married a man who everyone assumes is Chinese because of the epicanthic folds of his eyelids. I didn’t know Laos was a country until I heard my husband explain over and over again that no, Laos was not another name for Cambodia. Through our personal travel to visit his family, but more so the stories I heard over lunch and dinner, my interest in this landlocked part of Southeast Asia developed. Everyone knew about Vietnam, and most now have a frame of reference for Cambodia, but Laos, this was a word that could stop conversations.

Yet during the 1960s and 70s, more bombs were dropped on this landlocked part of Southeast Asia than in any other war. The turbulent history of the Land of a Thousand Elephants is the backdrop for my latest novel. The Opposite of Hate opens a window onto a forgotten corner of Southeast Asia and brings little known history to life through vivid characters and settings.


Three years of writing, research (reading everything I could get my hands on which was not much), and listening to family stories helped me put together a trajectory for a set of characters who were buffeted by history in this complex setting. One of the places I got stuck was when the characters in my story departed from the real lives of my in-laws.


Should I stay faithful to real life? Or could I take Hollywood screenwriter like liberties and let the wheels I’d put in motion find their own paths? That’s what happened in the end: I wrote a story inspired by family lore but no longer a representation of specific lives but rather informed by historical, personal, and imagined experience.


The Opposite of Hate explores the intersections of family, loyalty, and nationalism as Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is being taken over by Communists. The political instability drives Seng, a widowed engineer, to marry his best friend’s teenage daughter, Neela, so they can escape re-education or even worse, death. The unlikely husband and wife cross the Mekong River into Thailand as strangers.


Life in the refugee camp brings surprises along with the grime. As they struggle for survival, romances blossoms into an unplanned pregnancy. Seng and Neela get their wish of immigrating to the United States. Succeeding in suburbia, however, presents another unique set of challenges, ones that are not black and white. A story of hope, violence, love and ambition, Seng and Neela embody the struggle of thousands who fled the threats of communist only to face the challenges of democracy.



Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

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Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar is a South Asian American who has lived in Qatar since 2005. Moving to the Arabian Desert was fortuitous in many ways since this is where she met her husband, had two sons, and became a writer.  She has since published eight e-books, including a momoir for first time mothers, Mommy But Still Me; a guide for aspiring writers, So You Want to Sell a Million Copies; a short story collection, Coloured and Other Stories; and a novel about women’s friendships, Saving PeaceHer coming of age novel, An Unlikely Goddess, won the SheWrites New Novelist competition in 2011. Her recent books have focused on various aspects of life in Qatar. From Dunes to Dior, named as a Best Indie book in 2013, is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf. Love Comes Later was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013 and is a literary romance set in Qatar and London. The Dohmestics is an inside look into compound life, the day-to-day dynamics between housemaids and their employers. After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at www.mohadoha.com or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.

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