New Novel Probes Houston Culture, Friendships and the Wrath of Hurricane Harvey

Jhane Hoang
New Novel Probes Houston Culture, Friendships and the Wrath of Hurricane Harvey

WHEN HURRICANE HARVEY unleashed its wrath, Mumbai-born author Nishita Parekh and a few family members, some of whom had homes in evacuation zones, holed up in her second-story apartment, safe from the flooding — but trapped. “Five adults and two kids, crammed into this one-bedroom space,” recalls Parekh. “We ended up having a good time. But that experience planted a seed in my mind that this would make a good premise for a mystery."

It became her debut novel, The Night of the Storm, a classic locked-room mystery featuring a multigenerational Indian-American family struggling with the cultural mores of their homeland and xenophobia lurking throughout Western culture. Their struggle comes to a head when Harvey compels the recently divorced Jia and her troubled teenage son Ishaan to take refuge at her sister Seema’s and husband Vipul’s Sugar Land home.

While Ishaan grudgingly looks after Seema’s toddler, Jia tries to befriend her sister’s superstitious mother-in-law; brother-in-law Rajendra and his very white wife Lisa; and a handsome, duplicitous neighbor named Rafael.

When the first body falls, it’s a shock, and as accusations and recriminations fly, Parekh’s love for her culture and skill as a writer compels the reader to empathize with each of her characters, however unlikeable they may be.

Parekh is especially good at conveying the interior life of Jia, a single working mom. “Some of my closest friends are single moms, and they are my heroes,” says Parekh, who lives in Texas with her husband and a toddler. For Indian single moms, there’s another layer of social stigma and shaming, including the pressure not only to have a child but a child of a certain gender. “It’s sad to say this, but brown, South Asian women are finding the novel very relatable,” says Parekh.

Parekh, who has devoured mystery novels since she was a child — ones which rarely featured people from her culture — has changed the game with Storm, and like any first-time author who has dreamed of seeing their book in a bookstore, she is feeling proud and nervous. “Twenty percent excitement, 80 percent anxiety!” laughs Parekh.

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