Coconut Dreams, the debut collection of fictional short stories by Derek Mascarenhas, is an ode to the power of storytelling, an exploration of identity, and a love letter to Goa, India. Born to parents who emigrated from South Asia to Canada, Coconut Dreams is set in the world in which Mascarenhas and his three siblings grew up. “I think, like a lot of others, being born between cultures, there is this natural curiosity that we have about heritage,” he said in our interview. This curiosity inspired a deeper desire for him to understand and connect with his roots. In Coconut Dreams, he has created 17 short stories, set between 1994 and 2006, that follow the migrant history and generational shifts of the Pinto family. Although each story stands alone, they’re woven into a multifaceted piece of work that is both authentic and eloquent.
Sarah Amormino: Why does the world need Coconut Dreams?
Derek Mascarenhas: I think the world needs Coconut Dreams because these kinds of stories haven’t been told and I think they’re important. My two main characters, Aiden and Ally Pinto, they have unique perspectives of growing up racialized in a very white town, and they learn how difficult and challenging that can be to navigate, especially in a space where they’re clearly not the status quo. So, I think it’s unique in some ways, but I also think that the stories are relatable for anyone who has felt different… whether it be because of race, class, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. I think that both the characters go through a lot of that feeling, of being forced to be in tune to power dynamics because they’re different. I think that’s something interesting to be explored in Canadian literature. Life in the suburbs has been explored, but I feel more stories need to be told from the perspectives of an immigrant family.
SA: Where is the book set?
DM: The first story is set in the 1950s – The Call of the Bell – it’s almost like an origin story for the family, or, a more recent origin story. The reader gets a close-up glimpse into that world. The two main characters, Aiden and Ally Pinto, they aren’t privy to it—they grew up in Canada in the 90s and they’re curious about that world, to them it’s like a faraway land that they don’t have access to, and the family doesn’t have the means to go and show them everything. Their only access to it is through stories and also recognizing their culture in the ways that they’re different from other kids and other families around them where they live.
SA: Is there something surprising you learned while writing Coconut Dreams?
DM: How many contradictions there were in the process of writing a book. The obvious one is how much writing is an insular act and especially early on I thought it was all about creating the work in isolation, that it was just me and my keyboard doing it on my own, but you kind of quickly realize how vital community and connecting with other writers is—sharing your work and evolving it is definitely part of the process. I’ve been very privileged to have worked with some great writers and editors and I know the book is stronger as a result. It’s definitely a long process and I wouldn’t call myself an expert but it’s that air between being alone and needing to connect with others.
SA: When people buy your book, what do you think they’ll take away from it?
DM: As a creator there’s this process of letting go, especially once you’re done working on it. With writing, I think that’s the same. Once it’s out there I feel it belongs to the reader and it’s up to them to find their own meaning in it. My hope is that the reader, depending on their own background, will either feel less alone or learn about a life that’s different from their own, and make people feel less afraid of others.
SA: If you could tell your younger writer-self anything, what would it be?
DM: That other writers are struggling with similar things, and that it really helps to connect with others and open yourself up to other points of view, either from formal schooling or joining a writers circle or going to readings and events, it really does help. The other main thing is to believe in yourself and trust that your writing is important and your story is worth telling.
Coconut Dreams is now available from Book*hug Press.