Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Saumya Dave Interview - Well-Behaved Indian Women

Photo Credit: Sultan Khan

Saumya Dave is a writer, psychiatrist, and mental health advocate.

As a writer, she enjoys exploring the unique dynamics that exist in immigrant families. Her debut novel, Well-Behaved Indian Women, was inspired by her own experiences and those of the strong women who surrounded her. It will be published by Berkley / Penguin Random House in Summer 2020. Her essays, articles, and poetry have been featured in outlets including The New York Times, ABC News, Refinery29, and HuffPost, among others.

Saumya has a passion for women’s mental health and wellness. She and her husband, Samir Sheth, founded thisisforHER, a nonprofit which uses art therapy to improve mental health awareness and education for women and girls in low- and middle-income countries. She is a practicing therapist as well as an Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai, where she teaches a Narrative Medicine class.

Saumya was born in India and grew up in Atlanta. In her seventh-grade journal, she wrote: "I will be a psychiatrist and writer someday". She is a graduate of Georgia Tech and the Medical College of Georgia, where she was an inductee into the Gold Humanism Honor Society. She completed her Psychiatry Residency at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, where she was a Chief Resident, an inductee into the AΩA Medical Honors Society, and completed a Psychoanalytic Fellowship with the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
The strong women around me, from my mother to my grandmother to my friends’ moms. They’ve demonstrated so much grit with everything they’ve done, whether that’s moving across the world to build a better life for their families, learning new languages, caring for everyone around them, etc. And I realized there were often mentions of the lives they left behind, the women they could have been if they didn’t feel the need to live up to certain standards. I really admired this mixture of strength, vulnerability, and resilience. I struggled to find stories showing these parts of their stories and knew I wanted to explore all of this through writing.

Tell us your latest news.
It has been an eventful year! I’ve been quarantining with my husband, 6 month old, parents, and grandparents. I’m also working on my second and third books and practicing psychiatry virtually.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
My mother gave me her love of stories and my husband was the first person who believed I could write a book. After I started, I was influenced by a lot! My job as a psychiatrist, news events, conversations with friends, essays, etc.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
The most rewarding experience has been seeing how early readers have felt about Well-Behaved Indian Women. I appreciate every single one taking the time to read, review, and share the novel with others.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
My hope has always been for readers to feel a little less alone and to find some comfort in these characters.

In your new book; WELL-BEHAVED INDIAN WOMEN, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it
Well-Behaved Indian Women is about how three generations of women find the courage to create their own paths amidst unearthed secrets and mismatched expectations. Simran is engaged to her high school sweetheart, planning her big, fat Indian wedding, and preparing to become a psychologist. Everything in her life is on track until she meets a journalist she admires and finds herself questioning everything she’s ever known.

Simran’s mother, Nandini, a physician at a fast-paced private practice, experiences racism and sexism on a daily basis. She spends her evenings cooking elaborate Gujarati meals for her husband’s demanding family. And when an old colleague makes her a life-changing offer, she starts to wonder how much of herself she’s lost in trying to be the perfect Indian Woman.

Nani, Simran’s grandmother and Nandini’s mother, has always dreamt of being a teacher but her in-laws forbade her from working after she was married. As Nandini and Simran start to pull apart, Nani works to be the bridge that keeps them connected, even as she harbors her own painful secret.

What part of Simran did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed exploring the idea of being at a crossroads and having to make really important life choices. I come from an immigrant family where job security and stability are valued. Simran gave me a chance to navigate uncertainty, failure, and the luxury of changing one’s mind when it comes to love and career.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
I watch way too much television (thanks Netflix)!

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your Nandini and Mimi?
I was surprised that the book became a mother daughter story! Initially, I had planned to write about a couple planning a big, fat Indian wedding. But when I was doing my third year rotations in medical school, Nandini’s character became clearer to me. During my first draft, I related the most to Simran and by the last, I related to her the least and Nandini the most.

There’s often such a potent mixture of identification, hope, and love in mother daughter relationships. While this can lead to a rich closeness, it can also come with tension and misunderstandings. The mother daughter relationship shifts and evolves with different stages of life and I was surprised with how the women change depending on which role they’re occupying. Mimi is much harsher and stricter as a mother than she is as a grandmother.

  • 1. You enjoy stories about strong women.
  • 2. Big, fat Indian weddings look like fun to you.
  • 3. Complicated family dynamics entertain you.
  • 4. You would like to travel to India through a book.
  • 5. You want to learn about an immigrant family’s struggles and successes.
  • 6. Aunties both fascinate and scare you.
  • 7. You’ve been in a romantic relationship where something felt off.
  • 8. You believe ambition can be redefined and revived at any age.
  • 9. You’ve ever felt confused about big life choices.
  • 10. You want a story that explores how our families shape us.
What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Babies are born without kneecaps (oh, the treasure of Googling too much in the middle of the night as a new mom)!

What according to you is your most treasured possession?
My first journal, which is a romantic way of describing a bunch of loose leaf paper stuffed into a Trapper Keeper.

Best date you've ever had?
The first date my husband and I had. We talked for hours and I felt like I had known him my entire life. True story: my husband was part of an a cappella group, Penn Masala, that I’ve been a fan of since middle school. They performed at my college when I was a senior. I took a picture of him when he was on stage, then introduced myself later.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’d go back to the first years my parents and I spent in America. We lived in a family friend’s basement and I became a reader as a way to escape. There’s so much I’d want to take note of if I could go back.

If you wrote a journal entry today, what would it say?
It would be a collection of lists since that’s how my brain operates these days! Something along the times of Dear Diary, today I need to:

-drink more coffee
-feed the baby
-write 2000 words
-finish reading the gripping thriller that’s distracting me from my research reading
-stop scrolling social media so much

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Becoming a psychiatrist has changed the way I see the world. I am so grateful for my training and to have two job, therapist and writer, that explore how people live.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I’ve been afraid of closely packed holes since I was in elementary school and only later learned there’s a name for that: trypophobia.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
Writing the words “THE END” on the first draft of Well-Behaved Indian Women in 2011! I wanted to prove to myself that I could start and finish a novel without any external validation or motivation. I promised myself that if I got there, I’d try to get it published.

From a compelling new voice in women's fiction comes a mother-daughter story about three generations of women who struggle to define themselves as they pursue their dreams.

Simran Mehta has always felt harshly judged by her mother, Nandini, especially when it comes to her little "writing hobby." But when a charismatic and highly respected journalist careens into Simran's life, she begins to question not only her future as a psychologist, but her engagement to her high school sweetheart.

Nandini Mehta has strived to create an easy life for her children in America. From dealing with her husband's demanding family to the casual racism of her patients, everything Nandini has endured has been for her children's sake. It isn't until an old colleague makes her a life-changing offer that Nandini realizes she's spent so much time focusing on being the Perfect Indian Woman, she's let herself slip away.

Mimi Kadakia failed her daughter, Nandini, in ways she'll never be able to fix---or forget. But with her granddaughter, she has the chance to be supportive and offer help when it's needed. As life begins to pull Nandini and Simran apart, Mimi is determined to be the bridge that keeps them connected, even as she carries her own secret burden.


"This is a tender tale that never shies away from the tension at its root." —ELLE

"Well-Behaved Indian Women is a sparkling debut about family, identity, and finding the courage to pursue your own dreams. Saumya Dave is a bright new voice in women’s fiction.” —Emily Giffin, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lies That Bind

"Saumya Dave's wonderful debut is about mothers, daughters, and the rewards of following your own path. Told with warmth, humor, and insight, Well-Behaved Indian Women is a joy from start to finish." —Laura Dave, international bestselling author of Eight Hundred Grapes

"Well-Behaved Indian Women is a lesson in dreaming passionately, loving deeply, and living authentically. Dave reminds us that it’s never too late to resurrect an abandoned dream. This stunning debut is a celebration of women— their loves and loyalties, dreams and disappointments, hopes and heartbreaks." —Lori Nelson Spielman, New York Times bestselling author

“Saumya Dave's debut explores the relationships between mothers and daughters and their constant dance between meeting expectations while trying to fulfill self-desires. Nandini and Simran are both conflicted in how to be true to themselves. This debut is a love letter to the complexities of families and personal ambitions.” —Roselle Lim, author of Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune

You can purchase Well-Behaved Indian Women at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SAUMYA DAVE for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Well-Behaved Indian Women by Saumya Dave.


  1. "What is your happiest childhood memory?" Non-applicable.

  2. Going to our cabin on the weekend.

  3. Playing outdoors in the evenings.

  4. When our good friends from out of town would come visit.

  5. My happiest childhood memories would be when my siblings and I would visit our grandparents. It used to be fun. Our grandparents would be eagerly waiting for us. Those days were really exciting

  6. Playing with my cousin when we visited our grandparents. We would play outside until it got completely dark. They lived out in the country so the nights were really really dark.

  7. Christmastime spent with my family.

  8. My happiest childhood memories are Chistmases with my family.

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