Publication Date: June 1, 2018, BINK Books
On the cusp of turning 30, Jamila has achieved the hard-earned ability to live her life as an I, not a we. But this elusive achievement is thrown off when she falls in love with Salam, an Indian pastry chef and writer, temporarily in New York City. Salam is the first person besides her twin, David, with whom she longs to be paired. Their romance is passionate but doomed, and Jamila’s suicide attempt as the affair breaks apart calls David back to New York to ensure his sister’s safety. David is going through his own personal and spiritual crisis while he helps Jamila. At the age of eight, David started down a path apart from anyone else he knew, the path of a devoted Buddhist, and eventually takes the vows of a bodhisattva. He miraculously gains access to the mentorship of the 14th Dalai Lama. In his late 20s, he wanders around the Himalayan plateau of Sichuan Province, Tibet, ignoring the instructions of his lifelong mentor to enter a monastery there. Instead, he obsessively follows a self-immolation survivor who he longs to connect with as desperately as his sister wishes to connect with Salam. The twins’ reunion in New York coincides with a devastating trend of self-immolations in Tibet and the Dalai Lama’s own conviction that he must alter Tibetan Buddhist tradition in an unthinkable way if the culture is to survive at all.
We slept, one back against another’s chest. Our chins hooked over each other’s shoulders and our arms wrapped around one another. We pushed to find more space. Sometimes a freed foot or hand would find its own orbit to move about in, for an hour or a day or a week, only to get pinned again, stuck in the tangle. A distant sun sometimes glowed with illumination, and we could see each other, or parts of our own bodies, in silhouette.
We were awakened from our slumber by a rippling current. Our bodies shoved backwards. Our arms rose like wings. The back of one head pushed into the other’s face. Startled, we opened our eyes. We saw only in shadows, but we sensed another presence, as delicate as a seahorse. For the first time, we felt fear.
The presence danced lightly in the waters and then swift as an undertow, it vanished. Alone again, we knew something was happening. Our arms treaded slowly through the water, fending off the wake.
We slept hard after the disturbance. A few more weeks rolled by with barely any changing of positions. More light penetrated from outside, more sounds that made an echoing ghostly song. Then there were days where it was harder to sleep because we were pressed for space, so cramped that the slightest movement by one awoke the other, finally leading to our birth into the big world.
Chapter 1 Jamila
For the first eight years of my life I was a we. My world and David’s world were the same. I didn’t foresee that change would come. I didn’t know that twins eventually led their own lives.
We were always referred to as “the twins.” Our thoughts commingled in our heads before a word was uttered, and we spoke the same words together. Only one of us needed to speak. “We’re tired now; we want something to drink; can we play outside?”
So when David began to have thoughts I had no access to, to dream of things I’d never dream of, and to travel to unknown places to receive teachings I’d never learn, I wasn’t ready. When David found his calling, he seemed to find a new twin in the world, and I was suddenly without one, blindsided. No longer moving through life in synchronicity with David, I felt I’d lost an eye, turned deaf in one ear.
As we grew up I more-or-less learned how to say “I,” but not without moments of utter failure, when I felt like an un-whole person, a half of something. Still, I did have my own existence, a woman who was born a twin, but lived alone.
|When Anna is eight years old she witnesses the tragic drowning of her younger sister at the beach. While her parents frantically search the waves for their child, Anna watches alone from the shore. Desperate for hope, Anna begins silently communicating with her sister, begging her to resurface.Anna’s family emotionally breaks down in the years following the drowning. In her grief and loneliness, Anna develops the belief she can communicate to her dead sister through sign language.As an adult, Anna makes her living working with hearing impaired children, and she develops a close bond with a deaf foster child she works with, Adrea. As Anna makes the momentous decision to adopt Adrea, she is driven to face her conflicted desire to hear her daughter speak and she is forced to delve into the connections between Adrea and her own, lost sister.Anna’s journey takes her from New York City to France to the coast of Cape Cod. When Anna experiences an unexpected and painful loss again, she risks repeating history and becoming lost in her grief. Anna finds she must venture back into her painful and also beautiful history in hopes of finally embracing her future with Adrea. The Sign for Drowning is a story of loss and healing that explores the frailty of family bonds, the limitations of language and the ephemeral beauty of life.