Marina Budhos

Marina Budhos

"Light is like that. Here and there. In between," Meggie Singh proclaims in her precocious, adolescent manner. As the narrator of Marina Budhos' new novel The Professor of Light, Meggie unwittingly articulates one crucial similarity between Budhos' novel and its ostensible subject matter, light: The Professor of Light is also several things at once -- a foray into magical realism, something of a novel of ideas, and a psychologically taut family drama. Lots of novels are several things at once, but few novelists pull it off as successfully as Budhos does.

Every summer the Singh family -- Meggie, her father Warren, and mother Sonia -- travel to England to stay with Warren's sister Inez and her family. Warren and Inez are natives of British Guyana; Warren is an American philosophy professor trying to finish a book investigating the dual nature of light, its status as both particle and wave. The completion of his search means everything to Meggie, who dutifully types up her father's notes and is intensely invested in protecting her father from untoward influences like, oh, their entire family and the money-grubbing friends Warren grew up with who now live in England. Warren is blighted with a cruel duality of his own, the pull of the lore and superstition of Guyana -- he has to strain against something called the "jumbee curse," which afflicts the men in his family by forbidding them to ever truly leave their homeland -- and a striving toward light, toward making things clear. Whether he can straddle the fine line between genius and madness and resist the inexplicable lure of neurasthenia is the book's oddly suspenseful hinge.

"I keep waiting for someone to call me on something in the book, which is the idea that silence ends up being the answer to this paradox of being of two places, or East and West," Budhos says from her home in New York City. "And in a way, you know, I think that that's sort of a controversial idea. ... Perhaps the less tragic story," the author of House of Waiting and the forthcoming Remix: Conversations With Immigrant Teenagers, says, "is the daughter's story, where he seems to give her the tools, he seems to give her the legacy that might enable her to carry on." -- C.S.

Marina Budhos will kick off the West Coast leg of her book tour at Barnes & Noble Guadalupe Monday, May 3 at 7:30pm.

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