Helen Simonson has lived in America for over twenty years. She is a long-time and proud resident of Brooklyn, New York, though she has also spent some time living in the Washington DC area. However, she was born in England, and when she was a teenager, her family achieved the English dream - to move to a house in the country.
East Sussex, with its sleepy villages, medieval smuggling towns, and unique pebble-bank shores is her vision of 'home.' Her family lives near Rye, a 14th Century smuggling port on a cobbled hill, from which the sea receded long ago. It is marooned in the eerie landscape once home to smugglers, yet clings to its designation as a member of the Cinque Ports. Close by are the seaside towns of Hastings and Eastbourne and to the west, the Downs swell up into a ridge of grassy hills topped by the hundred mile trail known as the South Downs Way. It is literary country - Henry James at Lamb House, Rye; Kipling at Batemans, Burwash; Virginia Woolf at Monk's House, near Lewes - and this heritage was always a great inspiration to her.
As a young woman, she could not wait to go to college in London, or to move three thousand miles away from home to America. Yet she has always carried with her a longing for England that will not fade. This dichotomy - between the desire for home and the urge to leave - is of central interest to her life and her writing.
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BJ Nathan Hegedus interviews Helen Simonson about her first novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand offers an enlightening view of the divide between provincial and cosmopolitan, traditional and contemporary. What made you want to write about this? Was there a Major Pettigrew or Mrs. Ali in your childhood village?
Major Pettigrew may look, at first, to be the very image of the tradition-bound, English man who would live in a village like mine. Yet I wanted to show that none of us is our own stereotype not even the English! The Major is an individual and he reflects the struggle we all face between daily life and ethics, between cherished traditions and the desire to be free. I wanted to show how humor, and some truth, lives in the gaps between our intentions and our actions in this regard.
Mrs. Ali fascinated me because she is everything an English woman like me would aspire to be. She is educated, cultured, gracious, open - and she lives in the country. Yet her Pakistani heritage brands her as a permanent outsider. I wondered how it must feel to have grown up in England, just as I did, but then to have fellow ...
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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