Interview: Priyanka Taslim
Priyanka Taslim is a Bangladeshi American writer, teacher, and lifelong New Jersey resident. Her debut novel, The Love Match, is out now.
How did this book start out? Was there particular character/plot/setting that fell into place before anything else?
I have always wanted to write a book set in my hometown, Paterson, New Jersey. Paterson is a city with a very rich history and diverse demographic, including a bustling Bangladeshi diaspora that I grew up in. As a voracious young reader, I rarely saw settings like Paterson in the books I picked up, so The Love Match is something of a love letter to places like Paterson and upbringings like mine. The plot of the story started to come together when I visited a tea shop owned by a Pakistani family. It made me want to write about tea shops. Ultimately, these elements combined to spark the idea for Zahra, a Bangladeshi-American girl who works at a tea shop in Paterson to help support her family after her father passes away, and has to thwart her meddling widow mother’s attempts to set her up with a “good match” while fighting budding feelings for a new coworker.
What parts of your own life, personality and experiences are in your book?
As mentioned above, the book is inspired by my childhood in Paterson’s Bangladeshi diaspora community. When I was younger, I was frustrated by the experience and at odds with my culture, but the older I got, the more I came to love and appreciate it, especially through the lens of writing. In addition, as I got older, I started to fend off a lot of erstwhile matchmaking attempts, so I thought it’d be fun to explore those experiences in a novel. Zahra is not a stand in for me because she’s much bolder than I was at her age and has more obstacles in her path, but she definitely embodies what it feels like to be the eldest daughter in an immigrant family. Like me, she’s interested in pursuing writing and simultaneously practical and romantic. I also put bits and pieces of myself into other characters, especially Harun, who she ultimately fake dates to keep both of their families. I was introspective and shy as a teen like he is. Zahra’s other love interest, Nayim, is admirable to me because he’s probably the most different from me even now—he’s reckless and brave, and that inspires Zahra.
What did you learn about yourself while writing this book?
I think I learned more about what’s important to me. I set out to write an escapist and tropey romance with a lot of fun twists and turns, and I believe I accomplished that, but I realized I wanted to have messages about agency, education, and learning to put yourself first for girls like Zahra—girls like the one I used to be, but also the teenage girls I taught as an English teacher. The book taught me a lot about things I value and the things I hope readers will value.
What effect do you ideally want your book to have on its readers?
I hope that my readers, especially young girls, feel seen when they pick up The Love Match. I never saw books with characters like me or experiences like mine that didn’t focus on oppression when I was a teen, but I wanted to write a book that touched on the realities of teens like the ones I taught while still sweeping them up in a scenic, escapist fantasy. I want anyone to feel like they can be the protagonist of a romance if they want to be.
Who's one character in a novel you've read that you wish you had you could put in one of your own books?
I’m a big fan of Adiba Jaigirdar’s novels and like to think of her characters as the Irish cousins of my own characters! At the very least, I think they’d be good friends. Adiba also writes about Bangladeshi diaspora characters in YA romcoms and is a friend of mine, so I think it’d be a lot of fun for our characters to meet!
What's the next step on your writing journey?
I’m working on new books that I’m very excited about! My adult debut, From Mumbai, with Love, is a women’s fiction novel about a young woman thrown into her estranged family’s inheritance war and Bollywood-esque wedding drama, after she takes a 23andMe test and discovers the father she never knew is still alive. She not only meets him, his wife, and her half-siblings, but becomes entangled with two handsome men who have agendas of their own—all in beautiful Mumbai, a world away from New York, where she lived with her late mother. It’s a combination of Crazy Rich Asians and Succession, with a dash of Princess Diaries. I haven’t shared too much about it publicly yet, but I also have another YA romcom out from Simon & Schuster that I can’t wait to talk about! I think that fans of The Love Match will enjoy both books, and readers who haven’t read The Love Match might find something that resonates with them in all three!