It’s the telling of the story - not necessarily the plot - that makes “The Atlas of Reds and Blues” worth reading. Devi Laskar uses her talents as a poet, a journalist and a photographer to describe a striking and disturbing event that could happen in any neighborhood.
Laskar’s debut novel is an account of systemic racism. The plot unfolds through a series of random memories and observations - they are the final thoughts of a woman of color who is shot in her driveway in suburban Atlanta.
The story loosely reflects Laskar’s experience of a raid on her home. The events that lead to the shooting build to a breaking point. The main character - Mother - is often pulled over by a police officer. One of her daughters talks about bullying at school. The neighbors keep an unwelcoming distance. As the international conversation on racism continues, Laskar give us a narrative that inspires awareness.
On why characters have descriptive titles rather than names
One of the things that happened to me as a Bengali-American growing up is that when we were in the home, my parents spoke Bengali, and when we were outside the home, we spoke English. In America, people call each other by their given names, and in our family, and in our culture, you don’t. You always have a relational title, and so I really wanted to keep that because that would be authentic. I didn’t actually know anyone’s real name. I just knew them as the title. But also, in the world of my story, there’s no way I was going to name that family because no one’s going to remember that family’s name. No one’s going to care to learn that family’s name. So I made a decision that I was going to try to imitate life.
On how simple questions reflect racism
“Where are you from?” That’s pretty normal, right? The first time you hear it, it’s pretty normal. The 25th time you hear it, it becomes an issue. And it becomes an issue because if you’re told to go home, you’re not feeling welcome. If you are constantly being welcomed to this country, you’re also not being accepted. It’s an extreme on either end. When you ask those questions over and over again, what you’re saying is, “You’re Other. You’re not one of the community. You’re not one of us. You don’t belong here.” It’s invisibility and, obviously, systemic racism. I wanted to address that because my real hope for this book was that it would start a conversation.
On the decision to remain calm when held at gunpoint by police officers
One of the people I used to work with, my City Editor in Honolulu, was a mentor to me. He died pretty young, but I heard his voice. The gun was being pointed at me, and I heard Greg say, “You better keep quiet and watch everything they do.” And so I made a choice to keep my mouth shut as much as I could and to watch and see what they did. I complied with their requests. I decided I wanted to listen to Greg’s voice. He had given me really good advice before, and I was going to take it. That’s why I would say nothing violent happened. The raid itself was quite violent, but I was not shot.
On the psychology of systemic racism
With economic uncertainty, people become more insular. They need someone to blame for the things that are going wrong in their lives. And it’s pretty easy to blame someone who doesn’t look like you and maybe doesn’t worship the same way you do and maybe speaks a different language. Because people fear what they don’t understand. I’m not a psychologist, but I can imagine that if you are in a place of power, then you feel pretty certain that whatever you do, you’re not going to face any consequences for it. No one says no. We’re all just going to bow and be accepting of certain people’s narrative.