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May 8, 2017

Book Notes - Rakesh Satyal "No One Can Pronounce My Name"

No One Can Pronounce My Name

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rakesh Satyal's compassionate and thought-provoking novel : is filled with marvelously complex characters and an impressive amount of humor.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Satyal expertly describes the everyday struggles that define his characters, and he elevates the extraordinary moments of normal life in this skilled and thought-provoking novel."


In his own words, here is Rakesh Satyal's Book Notes music playlist for his novel No One Can Pronounce My Name:



I am always baffled when people say that they can't write with music on because I can hardly write without music on. Hell, I'll sing full-on to myself while writing sometimes. Songs are short stories, or chapters within a longer book, and combined with the right cup of coffee and whatever candy is worst for my teeth, they create an ideal writing environment. While working on No One Can Pronounce My Name, I found myself listening to a wide variety of genres because the book explores the most fragile thoughts of people from widely different backgrounds, from a queer man in Ohio to a lesbian in Allahabad to a supernatural being within the pages of a writer's work-in-progress. I hope that you find these songs as energizing as I did, and thank you so much to the wonderful David Gutowski for allowing me to do this.

Jonathan Groff, Hamilton Original Cast Recording, "You'll Be Back"
I'm one of those lucky people who got to see Hamilton on Broadway before it completely blew up, and the moment that I saw the incredible Jonathan Groff sing this song, I knew that I wanted to have it involved with my book somehow. Since I am embarrassingly shameless (a paradox), I did, indeed, rewrite the song and create a book trailer based on it. I think that Hamilton himself would have admired the panache, while Burr would probably have wanted to challenge me to a fatal duel.

Owen Pallett, "In Conflict"
Pallett is a wondrous mastermind who specializes in an exacting yet lush type of polyphonic music, with his astonishingly pure voice at its center, but there is always a true emotional core to what he creates. I used lyrics from this song as an epigraph to the book – "What are you but a drum and a tube and a wire, black heart? / A fire in the dark?" – and they represent a core theme of the story, which is how we often self-castigate until we hit a turning point and finally begin to see our flaws as assets.

Fiona Apple, "Valentine"
I consider Fiona Apple to be one of the greatest living artists in any medium, and this song is one of my absolute favorites of hers. In truth, I associate it with a very somber time in my life: Five years ago, I had recently moved to San Francisco to begin a new job and would take a bus over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito every day for work, and I'd be surrounded by the immense physical beauty of the bay while worrying that I would never meet someone with whom I'd have a lasting and loving relationship. That is, I was romantically stunted, and this song captures so perfectly what that stasis feels like. Soon thereafter, I met my now-husband, so this song acts as both a painful reminder and a hopeful augur – one that helped me to finish this book.

Mohammad Rafi, "Teri Galiyon Mein"
There is an early scene in the novel in which one of the main characters, Harit, comes upon his grieving mother while she is listening to Mohammad Rafi. As noted in the scene, there is a stark contrast between the vibrancy of Rafi's voice and the matter at hand. This is from the 1974 movie Hawas, which marked a comeback period for Rafi. I think that most Indian kids have memories of hearing violins on the soundtracks of movies like this as they permeated the walls and floors of their houses – makeshift alarm clocks on the weekends as their parents listened and hummed along.

Class Actress, "Weekend"
Thank goodness for apps like SoundHound and Shazam that allow you to "listen" with your phone to a song playing in a public place and summarily download it. I heard this song many years ago while at a bar in the East Village, and I immediately thought that it was one of the sexiest things I'd ever heard. The video, shot in blue-and-white in a Brooklyn apartment, is even sexier, capturing the constant push-pull of a nascent physical relationship. For quite some time, it was the most-played song on my phone, especially as I was writing.

Whitney Houston, "How Will I Know?"
This is really an homage to my first book, Blue Boy, because the narrator of that book is absolutely obsessed with Whitney Houston and ends up choreographing a talent show routine to this song. In my view, no one has ever possessed a more perfect voice than Whitney's. It has everything: the richest tone, the greatest capacity for expression, the technicality and emotion, the coloratura and the belt. She has, to quote the kids these days, the range. This is also one of those songs that is inextricably entwined with its corresponding music video, which is like a fun house in which I'd gladly get stuck for all eternity.

Joyce DiDonato, "Nacqui all'affano/Non più mesta"
I've seen Joyce DiDonato perform live about a half-dozen times at this point, and she never ceases to amaze me with the dexterity of her voice and the depth of feeling that she brings to her roles. (I couldn't help but wonder, "Is there anything more transcendent than an exceptional mezzo-soprano?") Over the course of writing the book, I saw her perform the Romeo role in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Elena in Rossini's La donna del lago, and her signature part, the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella). This, the last aria of that last opera, is one of the greats of all time, and I listened to it so many times as I wrote this book because it encapsulates not just a life but a sentiment – that of leaving timidity behind and coming into your own. I have a tendency to punctuate otherwise mundane scenes with large swaths of writing that I liken to musical movements, and this aria has played no small part in my doing so.

Nicki Minaj, "Trini Dem Girls"
My obsession with Nicki Minaj is so not-a-secret that I went as her for Halloween in 2011. I think that she's the greatest rapper alive, and I have a particular fondness for when she invokes her Trinidadian heritage. I had this song on a loop for most of 2015, when I was frantically writing and rewriting key passages of the book that I had lazily ignored while I jumped from storyline to storyline. I plan on repeating that loop all through this summer as I talk about the book that eventually came out of those listening sessions. (Full disclosure: I first thought of including "Did It On ‘Em" as the Nicki song on this list, but I thought that I'd attempt at least the semblance of decorum. That song really is the jam, though.)

Carly Rae Jepsen, "Emotion"
Queen of authorial inspiration.

Ken Howard, Seesaw Original Cast Recording, "We've Got It"
There's a flashback scene in the book in which we learn about a character's stymied Broadway aspirations, and he considers this number from the oft-forgotten Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical as a potential audition song. I heard a drag queen perform it at Aunt Charlie's Lounge in San Francisco, and if there's anything that I've learned as a serious writer, it's that you can never take enough inspiration from a song sung a drag queen at two in the morning when you've downed a couple of martinis.

Cornershop, "Brimful of Asha"
There is a very pivotal scene in the book that I won't spoil but that makes mention of Asha Bhosle, one of India's most famous singers (and the sister of the most famous female Indian singer of all time, Lata Mangeshkar). So as not to demystify that scene entirely, I'll refrain from putting a specific song of Bhosle's and instead include this buoyant classic by Cornershop, whose lead singer, Tjinder Sinhg, is desi. It's a tribute to Bhosle and quite fittingly conjures up the same giddiness that one feels in listening to her.

Amérie feat. Eve, "1 Thing (Remix)"
Sorry, but I think that no playlist is complete without this version of this song.


Rakesh Satyal and No One Can Pronounce My Name links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
BookPage review
The Hindu review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
New Republic review

BookPage interview with the author
NBC News profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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