Q&A: A new novel tells the story of Hurricane Ike

Texas is vast, diverse, and complicated. It can be nearly impossible to describe to people who don’t live here, who haven’t grown up in and around, the nuances of this state. But Kimberly Garza, BA ’07, MA ’11, did, and wrote a book that feels like Texas, in small moments and big. Set primarily in Garza’s hometown of Galveston, with scenes in Brownsville and Uvalde (where Garza grew up), The last Karankawa it almost feels more like a book of short stories than a novel.

The book, due out in August 2022 from Macmillan, weaves together the perspectives of multiple characters whose stories intertwine as they endure Hurricane Ike, which devastated the Texas coast in 2008. Garza says the book began as a series of disjointed stories, but at his publisher’s urging, he weaved them together more directly, and the novel was born. The stories are all connected primarily through one character: Carly, a young woman whose grandmother has always sworn to her that their family is direct descendant of the Karankawa people, who for years were largely believed to be extinct but who lived along the stretch of coast of Texas where Galveston is now. (In recent years, the Karankawa people living in this part of Texas have begun to revive their culture and fight for state and federal recognition). heart of the novel, which explores what it means to belong: in a physical place, in a family, in a country.

The mayor he sat down with Garza to talk about the book.

What do you hope people take away from this book?

I wanted to show Texas like this because it felt the most natural to me. This is my Texas. This version has many languages, has many cultures, religions and practices. There are prejudices, there are rituals, there are clashes. But there’s also this nice mix of experiences: cultural, racial, ethnic… it’s a melting pot, to use the cliché. And this is my Texas, and I’m very proud of it. The older I get, the more I travel, the more I realize that this isn’t everyone’s Texas, nor is it something anyone who isn’t from here might be thinking about. I hope I wrote it in a way that feels real instead of heavenly. Isn’t this beautiful and consistently harmonious blend of cultures. It has its problems and pitfalls. But I think diversity is one of our strengths and I love the idea of ​​being able to represent that.

Can you talk about it in specific terms about Galveston, where most of this book takes place?

Galveston is already so rich and diverse and has this crazy history. It was this tiny island that happens to be this hub for multitudes of people. So, it ended up being this really cool place, partly because it’s also a tourist destination, but it has this really rich history.

You even mention at one point in the book that the water in Galveston looks a little murky, which was funny.

I feel it must be authentic. I remember when we were designing the cover, my editor asked, “Are there any particular images you want?” And I was like, “Well, you know, if we do a beach landscape, it can’t have blue water.” If you had a picture of blue water on the cover, people would be like, “That’s not Galveston.” And I love Galveston, but we don’t have blue water. We came up with this cover, which is gorgeous, and I love it. There’s blue, but it’s a bit dreamy, isn’t it? It’s kind of this vision of Galveston, maybe someone dreamed it.

You have lived in most of the places this book is set. How did you both weave your experience into this book while also creating something new?

One of the risks of being a writer is that we are almost innately narcissistic, or at least there may be a tendency. There is a lot of navel-gazing. And I think one of the joys of writing fiction is that I get to take someone else’s point of view. I can create a character very different from me, and I’ve done that many times in this book. Some aspect of me is there, or some aspect of someone I love is there, but what a boring book if it was just 12 different versions of Kim Garza.

One of the overarching themes of this book is that internal struggle many of us may be familiar with: the urge to go home or the urge to leave one’s home. Can you talk more about it?

I grew up in a small town and there is something very distinctive about the experience of leaving and deciding to leave. I haven’t lived in Uvalde since I was 18, so when I go back now, it feels like a different place. I am a different person. I was really interested in these home recall questions, especially when I look at people like my mother, who was an immigrant and lived in America for maybe six or seven years before she could go back to the Philippines to even visit. This idea of ​​where home is and what it means, and what it means to leave and what it means to stay there, or want to do both, is very different for everyone. I never wanted to come to a conclusion like, “Here’s what this book says,” but rather show all the many ways this idea of ​​home is complicated, and it’s as much a comfort as an anchor. And for better or for worse, people out there are constantly wondering what it’s like to belong somewhere and what it’s like to go elsewhere and find a new belonging, a new place to call home.

CREDIT: Lindsay Garza

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