Whimsical memories of India mesh in Woodman’s ‘Love Potion Number 10’
Betsy Woodman thought the beloved India of her childhood had been lost forever. But much as the heroine in her new book has pieced together a family out of her household help, an assortment of local townspeople and a wisecracking parrot, the Andover author has managed to rediscover and re-create the magic of that time and place.
“It’s been sort of an amazing experience,” said Woodman, who will be at Gibson’s Bookstore tonight at 7 to talk about Love Potion Number 10, the second book in her Jana Bibi Adventure series. “I can write these books much more easily than at any previous time.”
Woodman spent much of her childhood in post-colonial India, thanks to her father’s job as an educational consultant. The people and places of those formative years remained in her memory, and she fed her appetite for all things India by reviewing books for various publications and hunting down Indian films where she could find them. When she began doing research for the books, she discovered that troves of information were as close at hand as her Netflix queue and her internet search engine. Overlaid with her firsthand experiences and decades of reading, these resources helped her create an authentic cast of characters whose stories play out on the colorful stage of 1960s India.
“The books are very character driven,” Woodman said. “I guess that’s my main love is just hanging out with these people. The plots are, shall we say, low probability. They don’t break any laws of physics, but they are whimsical and fun. I try to construct them pretty carefully so the chaos ties together in the end.”
Love Potion Number 10 is set in northern India in the fictional town that the Scottish-born Jana Bibi has recently adopted as her own. Having helped save the town from a government plan to build a dam, she’s now hung out her shingle as a fortune teller and dream interpreter and made friends with a slew of quirky characters, including her brainy bird, Mr. Ganguly.
“He’s become quite famous for his savvy comments,” Woodman said. “He knows how to address the Hindus by saying “Namaste” and the Muslims by saying “Salaam.” He’s also very witty. He’s a little bit like the jester in medieval type plays, and he’s kind of a celebrity, which gives a little bit of Hindi movie flavor.”
When Jana gets wind of a plot to kidnap the popular bird, madcap adventures ensue. Meanwhile, a series of subplots involving mixed-caste marriages and late-in-life love add spice to the concoction.
For Woodman, who, along with being a book critic, was a writer and editor for the award-winning documentary series, Experiencing War, the books are a chance to showcase the lighter side of a country that’s been the site of too much sadness. But she’s also thrilled that they’ve passed the authenticity test. “I’m getting very good feedback from Indian readers, which is a huge relief,” she said.
Woodman’s appearance will be the last author event to take place in the cozy confines of Gibson’s current location. On Saturday, it will close up shop and move up the street to the new complex that will also house True Brew Barista and Imagination Village. The store will expand to three times its current size and have plenty of room for special events.
“We’re going to have a much larger event space with a nice audio system and comfy chairs that we can wheel out,” said owner Michael Hermann, who is looking forward to hosting Pulitzer-prize winning author Paul Harding in the new facility next month.
The bookstore will be closed for browsing for about a week while the move is completed, but customers looking for a particular book are welcome to call, e-mail or drop in, Hermann said.