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Sujata Massey:  speaking the language of mystery

Excerpts from the interview by Lynn Kaczmarek in the June/July 2000 issue of Mystery News

She's a young Asian-American-California-girl turned antiques buyer living in Japan. Her name is Rei Shimura. She's a young Indian-German-American woman writing mysteries in Baltimore, Maryland. Her name is Sujata Massey.. Three guesses which young woman is real and which is fiction.

If you've been paying even a little attention to what's going on in the mystery world, you'll have figured out that my recent interview was with rising star mystery author Sujata Massey. And that Rei Shimura is the creation of Sujata's unique imagination. The protagonist of four mysteries to date, Rei has sparked the interest of many readers as she stumbles into murder and mayhem Japan-style.

Sujata Massey was born "in the let's say mid-sixties" to an Indian father and a German mother who met while studying in England. Sujata was the first of three daughters and due to concerns of discrimination, her parents decided to emigrate to the U.S where Sujata's dad found a home at the University of Minnesota. Despite the opportunity, however, Sujata did not learn any Indian languages while growing up. "I felt sorry about it," she says during our recent phone conversation, "and whenever I was in India I felt very awkward because I looked Indian, but I didn't seem to speak. When you're in India, people think that when you don't speak that it means that you didn't want to."

The creation of Rei's Asian-American background also allowed Sujata to explore Japan, a country that she had come to love. "I lived there for two years in the early nineties and that was a time that I studied the language and just threw myself into the study of Japan very wholeheartedly."

Once she was back in the states, Sujata joined a night school writing class at Johns Hopkins University. And it was here that she found her voice. "The people in the class seemed to enjoy [the book] so it really gave me a boost of confidence because I thought it was really an awful book terrible."

The novel features the picturesque Japanese Alps, where Rei Shimura stumbles across the dead body of the wife of a high-powered businessman, a salaryman. The mystery gave Sujata a framework on which to explain Japanese culture.

She's traveled a lot of places, this young wife, mother and writer, for varied reasons, but always with a sense of openness to the discovery of new things.  And she brings all her experiences, curiosity, and respect for cultural differences to the pages of her books.  Sujata Massey has given us a view of Japan that most of us will never experience first hand, but which through her words, we too have come to respect.  And she does it all in the midst of telling us a story, one that is oh so slightly reminiscent of the quiet village mystery set firmly in the country of her birth.

Read the complete interview in the June/July 2000 issue of Mystery News

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