Friday, June 17, 2016

Gry Finsnes ~ an interview and her novel ~ Goodbye Bombay

Gry Finsnes

Bombay in 1980, India’s business centre, was a swirl of parties mixing all religions and nationalities. The Norwegian lawyer Christine is married but falls in love with the good-looking Parsee Zarin. They meet in a houseboat in Srinagar and declare their love in the Mogul gardens, but this is just the beginning of a dramatic series of events leading them to the beaches of Goa and the tea gardens of Darjeeling. Twenty years later Christine tells her story to a friend in England when a stranger turns up.


Q: What kind of music do you listen to? Do you have an all time favorite song?
A: I really like music, all kinds of it when it is well performed with good musicians. If I have too choose I would prefer classical or jazz, if it is not too modern with a noisy saxophone. My all time favorite singer is of course Ella Fitzgerald who can do no wrong.

Q: If your life were a movie would it be considered an action film, comedy, drama, romance, fantasy or a combination?
A: Probably a comic drama with quite a lot of action. I can’t help seeing the comic side of things and can burst into laughter at embarrassing times, like funerals.

Q: Tell me one thing that your spouse does that really endears him/her to you. One thing that annoys you. These can be tiny little things, actually the smaller the better.
A: He is always very good when I’m ill. I should be ill more often, perhaps. But my ears are sensitive and he makes noises all the time. Coughing, chewing gum, moving around, yawning, snoring… very annoying.

Q: How do you feel about exercise?
A: I do some exercise every day to keep in shape. I can’t say I like it and I’m not very good at it but still try to play a little tennis and I do my yoga on the floor. Going for long walks is better. I walk along the coast here in Nice and watch the beautiful azure colored sea, almost every day.


Q: When did you start writing and why?
A: It’s probably genetic. My mother used to write at night when nobody watched, and I sometimes caught a glimpse of her sitting there with her pen, scribbling. I started very early but have not really taken it seriously until a few years ago when I suddenly had more time. Then there was the language problem. I moved out of Norway and lost contact with my native language. Lately I have found that English works fine for me.

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Oh, I always have ideas and they just seem to pop up. Often in connection with something I have discussed with people and developed further in my mind, or read an interesting piece that gets me going.

Q: How did you come to write your genera of choice?
A: The series I am doing just now: Tall King’s Country, about the second world war, started when I moved house a few years ago. A book about the invasion of Norway fell out of the bookshelf and I was about to throw it out when it struck me that I ought to read it. It led to Vanished in Berlin. I am working on the follow up now, Stones Don't Speak. Goodbye Bombay which came out in February, is from India 1980 when I lived there.

Q: What do you think is the hardest part of writing a book?
A: Going through it afterwards, deciding what I should keep and what should be deleted or rewritten. It takes a lot of time and is very painful, particularly to get rid of parts which I remember I was happy to write.


Q: What are you working on now? Would you like to share anything about it?
A: I am working on the second novel in Tall Kings Country. It is called Stones Don’t Speak.

Q: Do you have a new book coming out soon? Tell us about it.
A: I hope that Stones Don’t Speak will come out in the fall. The characters are the same as in Vanished in Berlin but we are further into the war, the years 1941-2. Ellen has changed her view of Germany dramatically. She is a pianist, has had her debut concert in Oslo and tries desperately to avoid playing for the German officers who want her to perform for the Reichskommissar Terboven. She misses Freidrich and thinks he is dead. Life goes on, food is the main problem. She gets into contact with the resistance movements.

Q: How can we find you? Do you have a web page?
A: Yes, I do. I have an author Facebook page:
My web page is
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Excerpt: We met in the golf club, on the big veranda, for everyone to see. I will never forget the way he looked standing there, waiting. Blood left my head and my heart beat furiously. I had to stop and breathe slowly before I went up to him. He was stunningly handsome in his short sleeved white silk shirt with a green tie, dressed for work. Black trousers and his mop of thick black hair cut straight over the neck the way the English did it. Too much hair, but on him everything looked good. Just then a whiff of bad air hit me, a stench of something rotting outside the fence. It could be anything and I suddenly felt the need to run. Run away from the stench of putrefying death, this climate and country, run up to my beloved Norwegian mountains with clean air that you could breathe, smelling fresh of flowers and heather, a sky that you could actually see. What on earth was I doing here, renouncing the things I loved in life, the people I loved back home? My brain felt boiled in the heat. I stopped again. He had not seen me yet. I could still go away.

But then he turned. His soft brown eyes widened as he saw me and he smiled, glittering at me. And then, wonder of wonders, he came towards me and took my hand to lead me to a table. In front of the upper Indian society, for all of them to see and talk about. I let him do it, I didn’t care. I loved it. The moment he touched me I forgot what I had been thinking seconds before. I floated along on a river of feelings, happy on the verge of bursting into tears. I registered a couple of familiar faces and saw some heads turn but didn’t stop to think long enough to recall their names. The waiter asked if Mr. Ashford would join us later. Zarin just said no and gave him our orders for omelettes and fresh lime sodas. He bowed and disappeared with no change of facial expression.

We sat there smiling at each other for a little while, but then it struck me that it would look more normal if we talked. Less compromising, if you see what I mean. Just a normal lunch meeting, maybe a business meeting of some kind. Could be explained away if need be.

“Hot in the sun today,” I said, meaninglessly.

“You look beautiful,” he said. “And I love you. I cannot feel the heat. I love you too much.” He put a hand over his heart as he said it. Well, that was that, then. So much for the meaningless small talk. He was getting down to business at once.

“Zarin,” I said, “it is lovely to see you.”

“Yes,” he beamed.

“I’ve been thinking a lot. In fact, practically all the time, of what we should do.”

“I understand. So have I. Night and day. Do you love me?”

I had to laugh at his directness. He was not naïve, he was just not going to let me escape by small-talking my way around it, perhaps out of it.

“I want to give you a hug,” I said instead of answering his question. He didn’t move but his eyes went black, flat like a road surface.

“Not here, not now.”

“I know, don’t be afraid. Did you think I was going to get up and hug you?”

He said nothing.

“Do you think I’m crazy?”

“No, just unpredictable. I want to hug you, too, but not here. You can see that?”

“Zarin, please.” I shouldn’t get offended, I told myself. He didn’t know me that well, he didn’t know Western women and our way of thinking and speaking. Of course I had no plans of compromising us like that. I just wanted to say it. We were interrupted by the waiter who served us the drinks. The break was long enough for both of us to regroup. The flatness had left his eyes when he looked at me again.

“What have you decided? Do you want to run away with me?”

“Perhaps. But how, where, when? Where could we go?”

“At first we could go to Goa for a while. Get to know each other, find out what next. My uncle has a house there and he is usually happy to lend it to me.”

“You’ve been there before?”

“Many times. With friends, you know. It’s nice, close to the beach. Have you been to Goa?”

“You brought girlfriends?”

“That, too. I have had several.”

“Indian girls?”

“Mostly. Apart from one.”

“Have you been married?”

“No.” He didn’t explain.

“And how have you been able to avoid that in this system of arranged marriages?”

“Since I came of age, I resisted any decisions being made for me. When my parents tried to influence me, I just pointed to their own marriage. My father was a Muslim and my mother a Parsee. They married for love but also for a couple of other reasons.”

“I see.” I didn’t see. “What other reasons?”

“Well, for me. I was on the way. He had made her pregnant. And since they were both well off they had the means to marry. Their parents were upset but not so much that they stopped them.”

Interesting. His parents had broken the rules of Indian society. Then he would know what steps he was taking. A Muslim and a Parsee, first half of the twentieth century, that ought to have created waves.

“What were the consequences? Did they have difficulties?”

“Yes, but more in the form of personal fighting between the two of them than from the community. They were both emotional people. But they were also quite...what can I say to describe them? Arrogant, perhaps, not caring what other people thought. They just laughed when their different backgrounds were pointed at.”

“Not caring, just like us?”

“But you care, don’t you? Isn’t that the trouble? You are terrified of what people will say, being ostracised by your group, left out in the cold. You are afraid that they will laugh at you, aren’t you? Running away with an Indian boy, for heaven’s sake. Christine, what are you doing?”

He looked flat again, not emotional at all. Testing me? I think I drew in breath. What is that word again? Gasped? He was trying to find out if I was prejudiced, or if I was perhaps afraid that the world was too prejudiced. If I had thought about that. And now how to tackle this, his testing of me. Should I risk being perfectly frank?

“Zarin. I’m aware of this, the prejudiced people around us. I realise that it may become a problem, but only a small one. We can choose where we want to live, who we want to see. Anyway, whose business is it who we choose to live with? Only our own business, nobody else’s.

“True, but you are not used to people looking down at you for your choices. You are going to notice and you will not like it.”

“Look, Zarin. I have thought about all that. And, yes, I am scared of what will happen. It’s hard to see exactly what the consequences will be if we just run off together. I still think it depends on where we choose to live. London or New York might work. Could you find a job there?”

“A job?”

“What would we live from?”

“I will keep my job. I can travel.”

“But if we run away, as you say, to Goa?”

“I will just take a long holiday. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that.”

“And after Goa?”

He looked puzzled, drank a little from his glass, stared at the golf course where a couple of tired players struggled on in the heat.

“After Goa, we come back here, of course.”

“To live together in Bombay?”

“Why not? At first, to see how things go. Or do you have a better idea?”

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