Mumbai New York Scranton: A Memoir

by Tamara Shopsin
Published by Scribner March 2013

May 14th, 2013

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We were skeptical when we received our copy of Mumbai New York Scranton: A Memoir. Upon opening its back cover, we were greeted with a photograph of its author, Tamara Shopsin, dressed in Converse and baggy, oversized clothes with an impish grin. It seemed improbable that she was over thirty and unlikely she could possibly have enough material to write her own memoir. But in Mumbai New York Scranton, Shopsin takes a few critical weeks in her life and transforms them into a compelling diaristic tale, taking her readers along on her travels throughout India and then back home to New York and Scranton where her life takes an unexpected turn.

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Shopsin is a graphic designer and illustrator who also works at her family’s New York restaurant, which seems like one of those family joints dominated by an owner (her father) who is quite a character. The book begins in India as Shopsin meets her husband in the airport – it is a travelogue of sorts describing the author’s encounters with the cuisine of the country, the strange and charming sights and sounds, and the fun and tender way Shopsin and her husband negotiate each other and being far away from home. Shopsin’s voice throughout is both droll and descriptive:

“`The only seats left on the train are upper bunks that force you to lie down and have no windows. There is a pictograph sign behind Jason’s head. Here is how I interpret it:

1. Do not take snacks from strangers.
2. Snacks are drugged.
3. You will pass out and they will steal your gold watch.”

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This staccato prose, ripe with meaning and to the point, recalls a Haiku poem both in its deceptive simplicity and her uncanny ability to evoke using the most economical of means. Her language and cadence produces an inevitable comparison – Shopsin is the 21st century’s young, hip, female version of Hemingway.

Eventually Shopsin and her husband return to America, their tiny flat in New York, and her quirky and loveable family. Shopsin’s pacing is unexpectedly brilliant – she starts off slow, building up steam quietly so that you don’t even notice she’s building suspense and just when you settle into her comical descriptions and feel a part of her life, things take a surprising turn. Without giving anything away, her website offers a FAQ section about the book and in her typically spare language she answers the question “What is it about?” by creating a list that seems to encompass most of the journey of life itself:

– 4 weeks
– the importance of travel
– reverence for the past while appreciating the present
– family
– the little things
– the big things
– paranoia and stress
– telling a story
– love
– fate and luck

The text is scattered throughout with her unassuming observations and she has a way of making little, everyday things seem big (without any of the sappy pretention you might expect).

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Mumbai New York Scranton is greatly enhanced by the Shopsin’s simple and elegant line drawings which mirror her language in their ability to conjure, despite their restraint. Luckily, her husband Jason Fulford is a photographer, who is by her side to capture every comical, dark and inspiring moment. He turns his lens on the uncanny and strange, adding cheeky captions that result in some laugh-out-loud funny images. The book includes 63 of his photographs which do much more than document their travels – they create another layer of meaning altogether. Combined with Shopsin’s illustrations, Fulford’s photography creates an imaginative world of visual associations, drawing you into the sensibility of both the author and her husband. In the end, Shopsin has created a distinctive work by marrying text written in her singular voice with wry graphics and photographs, erasing any doubt about her ability to tell an unique story in her unique way, despite her tender age.


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