Shauna Singh Baldwin was born in 1962 in Montreal, Canada. She grew up in India and remembers wanting to be a writer from the time she was eleven years old. After a Master’s in Business at Marquette University in Milwaukee, she worked as an IT-consultant. She also published poetry and essays in literary magazines in the USA, Canada, and India. From 1991 to 1994 Baldwin produced the radio-show “Sunno!” (t: Listen!) – “the East-Indian American Radio Show where you don’t have to be East-Indian to listen”. After the broadcast of a few of her short stories, listeners wanted to hear more episodes. These grew into her first work of fiction: “English Lessons and Other Stories” (1996). The stories in the collection are about women from Baldwin’s three countries: India, Canada, and the United States. The volume, which was awarded the Friends of American Writers Award, introduces the reader to Baldwin’s central theme: an interrogative approach to humanist questions in a culturally hybrid environment of varied generations, nations, religions, ideologies, and interpretations of history.
In 1999, Baldwin’s first novel “What the Body Remembers” appeared. The novel, based on her family history, is set in British-occupied India in the ten years leading to the Partition of India in 1947. The political situation is mirrored in the story of two women in a polygamous marriage to the man they customarily call Sardarji (Mister). The proud first wife Satya fights her young rival Roop without compromise. In the course of their conflict, Roop develops from a naive, ambitious girl to a responsible woman. As political conflicts escalate, the colonizers leave the subcontinent, having carved India up into Hindu and Islamic sections. Sardarji being a Sikh – neither Hindu nor Muslim – is caught in the middle. Baldwin’s novel was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Canada/Caribbean region) and was on the bestseller lists of the largest English-speaking countries for weeks.
Shauna Singh Baldwin’s most recent work, “The Tiger Claw” (2004), was nominated for Canada’s Giller Prize. The novel takes place in Europe during World War II. The main character Noor was inspired by the historical figure Noor Inayat Khan, a spy and member of the resistance. Noor is caught between her late father’s liberal Sufi teachings, the orthodox Islam of her uncle and a forbidden relationship with a Jewish man. Studying life under Fascism for her novel, Baldwin discovered disturbing parallels with recent “end justifies means” policies of security in her adopted country: the USA. And though she shows all different viewpoints as understandable – even that of the Nazi opposing Noor – Baldwin denounces racism as the bedrock of war. “For me, Noor’s story is about the triumph of love and hope over forces that try to kill our compassion, our humanity. About love beyond physical existence”, says the writer. Baldwin lives with her husband in Milwaukee.
© international literature festival berlin