Relatively speaking: An interview with author Rosie Dastgir

Rosie Dastgir

In her debut novel “A Small Fortune,” British author Rosie Dastgir asks: How do you  distinguish between obligation, indebtedness and responsibility?

Harris, a middle-aged divorcee living north of London, is a lapsed everything — Muslim, Pakistani, father, uncle, boyfriend. After his marriage fails, the patriarch’s desperate attempts to rein in what’s left in his life backfires, resulting in a total loss of control. Misunderstandings abound when, as a gesture of good faith, Harris tries to rid himself of the burden of his divorce settlement  — a sum of just over 53,000 pounds — leading him to make a regrettably rash decision. While his intentions come from the heart, the more he meddles in family affairs, the more strained relations become, exposing generational and spiritual rifts that test the bonds of bloodlines and brotherhood. We took tea with Dastgir to discuss platitudes, cultural attitudes and compromise.

Having expectations often leads to disappointment. Harris has high expectations, yet finds
himself unhappily settling quite often. Is settling actually a good thing that we resist?

I think there’s a kind of elegance and beauty to settling, or compromise. There’s humaneness to that. Harris is pulled in all these different directions, so he has this sense of burden and, therefore, expectations. Settling isn’t the worst thing a person can do. It can actually be damage control.

Kinship ties are strong, even overpowering. Harris’ daughter, Alia, mistrusts her father’s use of the term “community” as it refers to their extended family.

What I’ve tried to capture in the book is the ambiguity and ambivalence of all of these catchphrases: What it means to be a Muslim. What it means to be a good friend. An extended family can be an amazing support network, but it can also be oppressive. And that word, “community,” can be oppressive. It is a group of people with a shared set of values — that’s the broadest, loosest definition. But what interests me are the fault lines of those values and the way those values clash. People talk about the Muslim community, and one thing I’ve tried to show is that there are many different types of Muslims — devout ones, doubting ones, secular ones — just as there are in any other community.

Money  is a driving force behind the characters’ decisions. And it gets in the way of freedom.

I’ve thought about this theme a lot and it’s tricky. If you’re saddled with debt, it hampers you in a profound way. Money can hamper you practically and  it can hamper you spiritually in that you become wedded to a notion of consumption and materialism that isn’t really what you should chase after. That said, if you have a sense of what things cost and what you owe, you don’t take anything for granted.

Like the protagonists, before writing, did you or your family foresee a different career path?

I was the youngest of three children, so [my family] had given up by the time they got to me. [Laughs] I studied English and would have liked to do theater directing, but I ended up studying film. And then I worked for the BBC in production. I really was a frustrated writer all of that time. So after having a lot of stuff getting stuck in development, I moved to New York and thought, I’m just going to have a go at writing.

What do you consider your small — or great — fortune in life?

It’s been meeting my husband and having our two children, seeing that the best thing in life is loving and being loved.

What about Pakistani culture do you hope readers take away from the book?
The portrayal of Pakistani culture has been demonizing in the media. I wanted to tell an ordinary, heartfelt story that would appeal to all sorts of people, that wasn’t so ethnically specific. And to redress a balance of the image that people have in the West.


Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…


Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.


Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.


OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…


Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."


'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…


MLB video highlights: Red Sox defeat Orioles, 4-2

Brock Holt the difference in the Red Sox' win


NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump…

NHL video highlights & analysis: Red Wings dump Bruins in Game 1


MLB video highlights: Orioles top Red Sox, 8-4…

John Lackey roughed up for second straight outing


MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox


VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.


#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.


Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.


Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.