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the story behind the book

Tanwi Nandini Islam on juggling books, business

david wilson for the boston globe

Debut novelist Tanwi Nandini Islam knew her Bangladeshi-born parents would appreciate her book’s publisher. “The first books they read in English were Penguin paperbacks,” she said. “I remember how much I loved those books when I was a kid.” Showing them her “Bright Lines,” published last summer by Penguin, was “like bringing their experience in America to this beautiful full circle,” Islam said.

Growing up in small midwestern and southern cities, Islam knew from an early age she wanted to write books and live in New York. Family trips to Bangladesh and a junior year abroad in Nairobi planted a love of travel.


“I definitely think this novel is an accumulation of all these travels and trips in a very distinct way,” Islam said. “All of the characters have their own experience of a transformative journey. That’s something that laces the entire book together.”

The book’s other thread is botanical. “I’ve always been drawn to plants and flowers and herbalism and folk remedies,” said Islam. “I knew that was something I wanted to put in my book.” One character owns an apothecary inspired, she added, by “the row of Muslim shops in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue, shops that have been there for decades and sell black tea soap, essential oils, shea butter.”

Once the book was finished, Islam launched her own business, Hi Wildflower Botanica. “I started the business making candles on my stove top,” she said but has since graduated to an industrial melter. “The deeply soul-stirring work of writing” is still a priority for Islam, who is now at work on a second novel.

Juggling a small business and a literary career isn’t easy, she added, “but because I’m so excited about it I’m making the time.”

Islam will read 7 p.m. Thursday at Porter Square Books .


Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.