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A Harrowing Story Of Youth Survival

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A theme of abandonment runs through Annam Manthiram’s debut novel, “After the Tsunami.” It tells of how a group of young boys left parentless by the disastrous 2004 tsunami struggle to survive the harsh conditions of an orphanage in India.

The idea for the novel’s theme sprung from bits of information that a younger Manthiram had heard about her two oldest sisters. Their parents had left them behind at a boarding school in India when they moved to the United States, years before the tsunami.

“A lot of the stuff that happens in my novel is inspired by (my sisters) but it is not based on their lives,” said Manthiram, a resident of Rio Rancho.

“After the Tsunami” by Annam Manthiram
Stephen F. Austin University Press, $18.95, pp.

“My sisters felt a sense of abandonment. My father sent them money but it never got to them. … There was just the feeling of not having any family and only relying on each other. That’s important in my novel, whether the boys have the strength to get through the abandonment.”

The novel’s narrator is the boy Siddhartha, whose name translates into English as “he who has found meaning,” the author said in a letter to the Journal, adding “… indeed he does find meaning despite the depravity that submerges him. Even in the darkest of situations, the human spirit is resilient, resourceful and magical.”

Manthiram said that when the South Asia tsunami happened, a light bulb in her head came on. She thought of the thousands of children without parents sent to orphanages.

Some of her research for the book focused on India’s caste system, caste violence and specifically violence against children.

Her manuscript of the novel was a finalist in the 2010 Stephen F. Austin State University Fiction Awards. Aqueous Books is to publish Manthiram’s collection “Dysfunction: Stories” in 2013.

She learned to read and write at age 5. “Writing helped me find my voice and navigate the challenges that come from being a person with multiple identities,” Manthiram said. “Half of my family was born in India. My father held on to Indian customs. Half were born here. So having American friends and desires was a struggle for me,” Manthiram said. ”

Annam Manthiram discusses, signs “After the Tsunami” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at Alamosa Books, 8810 Holly NE.