TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!
Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?
Wait for God to Notice is about growing up in Uganda during and after the dictatorship of Idi Amin. It’s also about a daughter getting to know her Finnish mother while considering their shared past.
What boundaries did you break in the writing of this memoir? Where does that sort of courage come from?
I broke boundaries with point of view. When we first moved
to Uganda, I was about one and a half years old. I have a good memory, as
everyone in my family will tell you, but it doesn’t go that far back. To write
about our arrival, I had to sort of hover over our family, much like a fiction
writer would, using material I gathered from interviews, photographs, letters,
newspaper articles, visits back to Uganda and of course the stories I had heard
my parents tell. The challenge was finding a nonfiction voice that allowed me
to inhabit that space and write honestly and authentically. The older I get in
the narrative, the more fully I inhabit my point of view, but occasionally I
make the imaginative leap into another perspective. My favorite was briefly
considering our family from the perspective of the monkeys who were harvesting
the tomatoes from our garden.
The courage came from reading memoirists who successfully did the work I was trying to do. I returned to Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje and Out of Egypt by André Aciman over and over again. The courage also came from the urgency I felt to write this story.
Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.
Completing this book took a lot longer than I expected. I
got a job. I got married. I had a kid. Lots of good life stuff happened, none
of which lent itself to long stretches of writing time. I shifted over to
writing essays because they were more manageable. They had the added advantage
of helping me rediscover all the things you can do with form, and I was able to
return to my book manuscript and solve the structural problems I had
Sometime after I completed my manuscript, I noticed one of my Twitter acquaintances had a book published with Etruscan Press. Intrigued, I visited the Etruscan website and saw they were publishing 50 Miles by Sheryl St. Germain. Sheryl was my professor at Iowa State University. Etruscan had an open call for submissions and so I sent in my manuscript, which they accepted. Their executive director, Philip Brady called me on the phone before I signed the contract, and he talked about my memoir exactly the way I wanted readers to think and talk about it. And that was that.
What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?
I like Pico Iyer’s advice, “I think writing is really about a journey of understanding. So you take something that seems very far away, and the more you write about it, the more you travel into it, and you see it from within.”
My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?
The book’s final structure surprised me. I had planned to move back and forth between Uganda and Finland, which sounds great, but I couldn’t make it work. There just wasn’t enough happening in the Finland sections to justify my original structure. I transitioned over to a disrupted chronological structure that focused on three separate parts—each with its own theme--and that allowed me to move deeper into the narrative.
How did you find the title of your book?
This book had a lot of different titles, none of which felt right. Julie Schumacher, who was my writing teacher at University of Minnesota, advised me to read through my manuscript draft and underline every phrase that caught my eye. I underlined like a freshman in college—so much underlining—and then I came to a line from one of my mother’s letters and I knew that was it. She wrote, We just found out that the price of one roll of toilet paper is $5.00, and its size is not enough to use a dozen times. I’ve read that the sellers rarely have bananas and beans. Wait for God to notice.
Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)
In my memoir, I write about how Idi Amin put our family under house arrest, and how after he had walked back his threats, my mother used all the rice and flour in the house to make piirakka, a Finnish staple and an extraordinary treat since food was so scarce. My father was in Kenya during the house arrest and she was hoping he would smuggle some flour over the border—which he didn’t—but he was alive and we were alive and we all ate piirakka.
In Finland, piirakka is eaten daily. Most households buy them from a store or bakery because they’re so time consuming to make. After my mother died, I spent years trying to replicate her recipe, which she had carried in her head, and for a long time, I was very unsuccessful. I now finally have a good recipe and I make piirakka for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My piirakka looks rustic, but I know my mother would say it’s delicious.
This link is a good one: https://www.saimaalife.com/recipe-finnish-karelian-pies/
READ MORE ABOUT THIS AUTHOR: https://www.sarifordham.com/
ORDER THIS BOOK FOR YOUR OWN TBR STACK: https://bookshop.org/books/wait-for-god-to-notice/9781733674157
READ AN EXCERPT, “Driver Ants”: