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Meet the creator of Rei Shimura, super sleuth

September 07, 2006 17:16 IST

For best-selling writer Sujata Massey, who was raised by her Indian father and German mother in the United Kingdom and America, going to India was never a very big thing. But, now that Sujata and her husband have two children adopted from Kerala, a visit to India means something really significant.

Massey, who is currently working on her tenth novel featuring her Japanese-American sleuth Rei Shimura, last visited India over four years ago. "I think I have learned a lot about India in recent years, including theĀ  names of all Bollywood stars, because of my children," says the writer who recently moved with her husband, a psychiatrist, from Maryland to Minnesota. Daughter Pia, who is in her third grade and son Neel, who is in kindergarten, are growing up as very good Americans who are also aware of the culture of their parents, she says.

Massey, who was born in England and grew up in Minnesota's St. Paul, where her father Subir K Banerjee is a much recognised geology professor, has a new bestseller titled Girl in a Box. Although she thought of writing a book with an Indian background following the adoption of Pia, Massey is still sticking to her Japanese-American sleuth. The editors at HarperCollins, her publisher in America, wanted her to stick to the safe and proven formula for some more time, she says with a chuckle.

The writer fell in love with Japan when her husband served in the American armed forces there a decade ago. She purposely made her heroine a Japanese-American because Rei could look at her own culture partly as a foreigner.

She has said, in a few interviews, that she resisted the idea of making her main character an Indian-German or Indian-American. "Had my protagonist belonged to one of those groups, some readers might have assumed my books were autobiographical," she explains.

She also adds that, despite her mother being white (but of German origin) and her husband being American, she could not write about purely white characters all the time. "So, I decided on a character, Rei, who was half-Japanese and half-American," she said in an interview recently. "I felt I understood what it meant to be raised in one culture with a great desire to be accepted by the second."

Rei Shimura solved her first murder in The Salaryman's Wife nine years ago and has continued to be one of the hottest sleuths in America. But readers abroad are also getting to know her, as Massey's books are translated into nearly a dozen world languages. In Girl in a Box, the second book in which Rei is working for an elite US spy agency, followed The Typhoon Lover, which revolved around an ancient artefact stolen from a Baghdad museum.

Massey, who despite being married to a psychiatrist who served in the American army firmly believes against war, especially the one against Iraq, says she makes Rei find solutions to problems without resorting to violence.

While her tenth book will still revolve around Japanese and Americans, she continues to dream about her Indian series. "I want to do something different," she recently told the Pioneer Press in Minnesota. "Although I enjoyed writing Girl in a Box, I'm interested in testing myself in a new direction."

Arthur J Pais in New York