Fifty Words for Rain
by Asha Lemmie
Literary/Coming of Age
(Dutton, January 2021)
An exclusive Authorlink interview by Diane Slocum
Eight-year-old Nori is dropped off by her mother at the estate of the grandparents she never knew she had. For three years, she lives in their attic, suffering acid baths to lighten her skin and beatings with a wooden spoon. Then she learns that an older brother, of whom she was also unaware, is coming to live with them upon the death of his father. Akira is the cherished family heir and as such, has power over their iron-willed grandmother. Under his wing, Nori is allowed out of the attic, given treats such as ice cream, and mesmerized by his violin virtuosity and his kindness to her. She also begins to learn her own history and her mother’s. But even Akira can’t protect Nori from all of their grandparents’ schemes to disown her.
AUTHORLINK: What was your first thought about this story? Did it start with a bi-racial girl in Japan? Why?
LEMMIE: It started with an attic, and then I knew I wanted to have a brother/sister relationship as the heart of the story. I read a lot of fiction centered around World War II, and most of it takes place in Europe or the United States, so I wanted to do something different. I had spent time in Japan, so it felt natural.
AUTHORLINK: What else about Nori’s situation was important to you?
“…resilience may be a less glamorous form of strength…”
LEMMIE: I wanted to show that resilience may be a less glamorous form of strength, but it is still extremely important. Sometimes just surviving is a massive victory. I also wanted to show that hope can be found in the darkest of places.
AUTHORLINK: Why did you set it mostly in the 1950s?
LEMMIE: That’s the beginning of the modern era and it’s endlessly fascinating to me. The world changed so much in such a relatively short amount of time.
AUTHORLINK: What was the first line that came to you? Did it stay in the book?
LEMMIE: Yes. It’s the last line. “And it was in these rare moments that she felt it: the burning light of her Kyoto sun.”
AUTHORLINK: What did you do for research?
LEMMIE: I’ve read a truly endless amount of books on Japan, and I was lucky enough to have a lot of wonderful first hand resources in the form of my Japanese aunties, who were gracious enough to help me write this book. I also spent time in Kyoto while writing. Also, documentaries are a girl’s best friend!
AUTHORLINK: How did the title of the novel develop?
LEMMIE: Well, there’s a saying in Japanese that there are fifty words to describe rain in the Japanese language because it rains so often in Japan.
AUTHORLINK: Doesn’t it seem as if the rules of society were made to make women’s lives miserable? And often, ironically, it is the matriarch who is the greatest enforcer of those rules?
“I’m fascinated by the cycles that we perpetuate.”
LEMMIE: It is extremely ironic, but that’s always been a trend. I’m fascinated by the cycles that we perpetuate. I think that self-awareness, love, and a willingness to take chances are the only ways to break them.
AUTHORLINK: What do you hope your readers will get from your novel besides the enjoyment of reading a good story?
“I hope we can all show each other just a tiny bit more grace.”
LEMMIE: I hope we can all show each other just a tiny bit more grace. The world would improve overnight.
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
LEMMIE: I’m working on another historical fiction/coming of age novel about a little girl lost who becomes quite the force to be reckoned with!
About the Author: Asha Lemmie was born in Virginia, raised in Maryland and educated in Washington, D.C. Her passion for reading began when she was two and writing when she was five. In Washington, she was exposed to wide cultural diversity. She received her degree in English literature and creative writing from Boston College and worked in book publishing in New York City. Fifty Words for Rain is her first novel. “In Nori,” she said. “I created a character that is a reflection of both who I am and who I want to be.”