Beal returns home with tales of far off places
The underlying line of human interconnectedness in "In the Land of No Right Angles" is the same line of connection author Daphne Beal maintains for Milwaukee.
A Milwaukee native, Beal's first novel reflects her experiences among distant cultures and she displays more than a mild excitement to bring her work back home.
"I think Milwaukee is a really special, multi-faceted city. Milwaukee and Wisconsin in general is an incredibly loving state," Beal says. "I'm really proud of where I'm from and proud to be reclaimed in a way as a Milwaukee author."
"In the Land of No Right Angles" tells a coming of age story of an American girl travelling in Nepal and India. Alex, the protagonist, deals with boundaries of friendship and adventure as she develops relationships with both an American expat and a young, local woman.
"Once you start looking at pictures of Nepal in terms of a love of nature and sense of adventure, it's really pretty hard to resist," Beal explains.
Beal's connection to Nepal began nearly 20 years ago when she studied in Nepal during college.
"The '90s were a politically charged decade for Nepal. I thought about placing my novel in a time other than that but I felt really attached to that place and time," Beal says. "I basically went in 1990 and was there about a year and went back about every four years. It morphed more into assignments on India and so I have visited both Nepal and India quite a bit."
Like the characters she created, Beal sought a journey of personal exploration and international awareness in a remote world.
"As with most first novels, there is a decent amount of me in Alex but, I think the only way for me to write this novel was to have her be her own character. I had to navigate the ways her and I are similar and the ways her and I are different," says Beal.
In "In the Land of No Right Angles,' Beal creates convincing characters dealing with the Western uncertainty in an Eastern world.
"I can't deny the influence of my own experience. It is a coming of age story and certainly that part of the world is tied to my own coming of age," Beal explains.
But each character takes on an imaginary life of its own, allowing Beal to blur the line between fiction and literary non-fiction.
"I kept thinking of these three characters who were kind of amalgams of all the people I would meet. Everyone I studied with in Nepal kind of went into Alex and all the uneducated, but get-up-and-go country girl types went into Maya and then the kind of ex-pats in any part of the world who are casting about are Will," says Beal.
The story leads central characters Alex and Maya into India's world of slavery and prostitution. Beal's descriptions forcefully bring issues of human rights, personal safety and governmental corruption to the fore, yet delicately balance fiction and non-fiction and avoid political agendas.
"I definitely did not set out to write a sociological novel but at the same time I was very interested in exploring that part of the world in fictional terms," Beal explains. "Fiction is an incredibly humanizing form of writing. It really allows exploration without having to come down morally black or white."
Beal, a graduate of New York University's Creative Writing program, is a regular contributor to Vogue and writes for McSweeney's, The Believer and the New Yorker.
"I was always drawn to fiction. I initially thought I had to choose between fiction and non-fiction but the more I have done, the more I love the interest in both," Beal explains.
Beal grew up in River Hills and still has extended family throughout Racine County. Her education moved her to Rhode Island and eventually New York, where she now lives with her husband and children. Her travels have taken her across the world and into Nepal time and time again.
"It's an incredibly warm culture, a very hospitable one and very colorful and incredible people. It's very lush in a sensory way," Beal says.
Beal will read at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop on Downer Avenue on Thursday, Sept. 18 as part of a cross-country promotional tour.
"I was really excited to go to the Downer location because that's where I experienced so many things when I was younger," Beal explains. "One of the great things about coming back as an adult with kids is we get to do all of these things I remember plus some things that are new. There is a lot Milwaukee has to offer kids that New York does not."
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