Derek Mascarenhas' debut collection of short fiction, Coconut Dreams (Book*hug), explores the lives of Aiden and Ally Pinto and their family, and connects their world in suburban Ontario with the family’s ancestral village in Goa.
In a starred review, Quill and Quire says “Mascarenhas is brilliant in capturing the first-generation immigrant experience, with attention given to the particularities of being a South Asian kid growing up in a mostly white suburban town. The innocence of childhood is mired in the depths of something unseen but deeply felt.”
Derek Mascarenhas is a graduate of the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program, a finalist and runner-up for the Penguin Random House of Canada Student Award for Fiction, and a nominee for the Marina Nemat Award. His fiction has been published in places such as Joyland, The Dalhousie Review, Switchback, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Cosmonauts Avenue, and The Antigonish Review. Derek is one of four children born to parents who emigrated from Goa, India, and settled in Burlington, Ontario. A backpacker who has travelled across six continents, Derek currently resides in Toronto. Coconut Dreams is his first book.
THE CHAT WITH DEREK MASCARENHAS
Trevor Corkum: Coconut Dreams is a collection of linked stories following the lives of brother and sister Aiden and Ally Pinto in suburban Ontario. How was the collection born, and why did you decide to tell their story through short fiction?
Derek Mascarenhas: The collection started with the voices of Aiden and Ally. I felt they had unique perspectives that I personally hadn’t seen represented in Canadian literature—specifically the experience of growing up South Asian in a predominantly white suburb. I chose short fiction because it’s an art form I love. A great short story can change someone’s life. Having a linked collection also allowed for the point of view, timeline, and tone to match each story’s needs and be self contained, but then also fit within a larger narrative.
TC: You ground the lives of Aiden and Ally with an historical family story set in Goa several generations earlier. Why was it important to include this historical piece?
DM: Coconut Dreams is bookended by Goa. I thought it was important to give the reader a close-up view of the family’s ancestral home. Goa is popularly known for being a beach vacation and party spot, but there’s a vibrancy in the village life as well. There’s so much going on there that I felt compelled to capture. Later on in the collection, Aiden and Ally struggle because they are both connected and disconnected from this world.
TC: One of the great feats of the stories is how you move back and forth between Ally and Aiden’s perspectives, capturing the nuances of a young girl and young boy entering adolescence and beyond. What particular challenges did you face in terms of manoeuvring through these contrasting points of view?
DM: Thank you—it was something I had to work really hard at. Anyone who has written from children’s points of view knows how difficult it is to get right. Early on, I’d gotten some feedback that Ally and Aiden’s voices sounded similar. They are in very congruent situations, but I tried to draw out some of the differences in their personality, age, reaction to events, and social norms of their gender.
TC: I understand you’re an intrepid backpacker and have travelled to six continents. How has travel shaped how you approach writing fiction?
DM: First off, I’d just like to recognize the privilege of being able to travel, especially as a Canadian citizen. While I saved up for years and left a very good job to make the time to go, not everyone is able to do this for a variety of reasons. So I definitely feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to go on that trip. I kept a journal the whole way, and my travels in India—and in particular, Goa—were so helpful for this book, as a couple of the stories are set there. Getting all of those sensory details of the physical place, as well as the dialogue, traditions, and ways that folks interact gave me so much more confidence setting stories there.