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In her clear account Spellbound, Bishakh Som blurs the banal and the fantastic—the facts and the truth—in the adventure of how she wrote her aboriginal clear novel. Through mirrored protagonists—herself, Bishakh, a Bengali American auto woman, and Anjali, her cisgendered stand-in—Som tells a adventure about creativity, process, identity, and self-love. Afterwards Som’s abrupt introduction, the account plunges readers into Anjali’s story. Anjali has abdicate her New York architectonics abutting and she sets an intention: use this abutting year to accompany her affection project, a clear novel.
It’s a anecdotal of confusion, angst, growth, and rebuilding. Instead of jumping on a morning alternation into the city, Anjali holes up at her Park Slope apartment. She draws panels and shoots the sh*t with her cat Ampersand. Her canicule deliquesce into wine and vegetarian meals. This abiding anecdotal of circadian action is intercut with vignettes from Anjali’s life—her adolescence move from Ethiopia to New York; her boyish years in ’90s New York abounding with jailbait shows at CBGB’s and awkward explorations of sexuality; again her academy years back she changes majors from the parentally-prescribed pre-med to architecture; her parents’ abatement in their old age; and additionally her advancing struggles with dating. Throughout, Anjali makes faculty of it all with wry observations and lamentations. Bursts of affect and bewitched accurateness accent the narrative. Ghosts visits her—you know, basal account stuff.
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As we apprehend Anjali’s activity adventure in its bright particulars, we about balloon that Anjali is not technically real. Deviations amid the pictures and argument additionally accession questions about what Anjali’s account leaves implied and what truths are hidden or brought to ablaze in the act of substituting Anjali for Som.
Evocative, too, are Som’s assets in their affluent detail. Som’s architectonics accomplishments shines here. Panels are scenic, and allowance interiors specific. One can admit altered architectural signatures as Anjali campaign through New York, Kolkata, and the Adirondacks.
I sat bottomward with Som (via Zoom) to allocution about Spellbound, her abstruse adventure of defying alien expectations, and award the adventuresomeness to chase your desire—even back it’s not glamorous. Along the way we talked about the quagmires of genre, actuality apprehend by your own work, and acumen you’re auto center through autograph your memoir.
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Som started autograph abbreviate diary-esque banana strips afterwards she completed her aboriginal clear novel, Apsara Engine, a addictive book of fantasy vignettes, and beatific it off to -to-be publishers. “I didn’t appetite to draw myself, so I created this added appearance to be my substitute. It was aloof a way for me to not abutting up, or get awash up with my artistic process. I aloof capital to accept a acumen to accumulate authoritative comics,” Som said.
Eventually it became added than a diary. Som added best narratives about her accomplished and her family. At first, Som didn’t decidedly like the abstraction of autograph a diaristic piece, but she capital to claiming herself to try article new. “Once I got into the accent and already I had addition arena me, it was abundant easier.”
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“[H]aving accounting a lot of women characters in my comics, and accepting Anjali be my array of agent actual anon was array of the aftermost footfall in me advancing out as trans,” said Som. She continued, “It was like the aperture was aperture and Anjali was array of accomplishing that for me. This was how I projected myself in my head. That simple barter became abundant added of a analytic action for me.”
Som said, “I don’t accept the absolute two-word description. My administrator and I alarm it a clear memoir, with the admonition that it’s not 100% true.” Others accept alleged it a “meta-memoir,” or an “almost memoir,” or “a displaced memoir.”
“If you’re attractive for accurateness and accuracy as far as my acquaintance goes, that’s not the capital point of the book,” Som explained. “Anjali as a appearance does represent me, but she goes off and does her own things too. And those things can either be attributed as fantasies or desires or projections or whatever. That ability not be 100% my experience.”
Throughout the story, Anjali has assorted brief adulation interests and bedchamber encounters with ally who feel far away. Again she meets the admirable Titania at a party. The two anatomy an accessible band while cat-and-mouse for accompany to access at a party. Titania says, “At atomic you’re not the alone auto actuality in an accommodation abounding of cis folks. You’re not trans, are you?”
In that moment, the trans-ness of the anecdotal is pulled into the open—so accessible as to validate the abeyant trans-ness of addition who ability arise cis.
From then, Titania and Anjali anatomy a able connection, arch Anjali to accost her own internalized fears about her queerness. That includes what her ancestors ability anticipate about it. In a amazing sequence, ghosts of Anjali’s ancestors appointment her. Som did not affirm whether this happened in absolute life.
Titania is so important to the adventure that she gets her own little affiliate with panels told from her point of view. Som said this had to do with her abhorrence to autograph about herself. She explained, “There’s some faculty that she’s a altered aspect of Anjali or of me, she’s like about a additional mirror in this like, leash of like selves. Yeah. And she’s not absolutely like a outsider. She’s absolutely allotment of this trinity.”
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Som said, “When I did the Anjali barter of that was like, array of a auto strategy, right, but it’s actual implicit, admitting Titania as a appearance is the absolute auto motif, let’s say.”
It’s powerful, because Anjali loves Titania, as she gets afterpiece and afterpiece to admiring her abounding self. But as Som notes, Anjali’s appearance actuality cis ability accord the consequence that she wishes to be cis. “But back I aboriginal started autograph the book, and afore I, you know, had this array of gender reckoning, I wasn’t activity to accept the articulation of a auto actuality because I didn’t [yet] apperceive I was trans. And I anticipate Titania comes in to array of abate that? Maybe not enough. But yeah, I don’t know, I don’t anticipate I got to the basal of any of that.”
By the time Som accomplished she was trans, she was already about eighty pages in. “So I aloof kept it and then, but, I anticipate that’s a mirror of my action of my acquaintance as a actuality who came out after in life,” she said. “It’s a mirror of my uncertainties and the things that I was activity through. In that sense, it is it is absolutely honest and accurate but it’s additionally actual tangled.”
But in the end, Som said she acquainted her choices were legitimate. She added, “I’m aloof autograph my truth, the way I see it.”
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