Anne Cher­ian was born and raised in Jamshed­pur, India. She lives in Los Ange­les, Cal­i­for­nia, and vis­its India reg­u­lar­ly. Her sec­ond book, The Invi­ta­tion, is now avail­able. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Jew town,” Mom direct­ed the autorick­shaw driver.

Where in Jew town?” he asked in Malayalam.

The big church,” Mom respond­ed, because she did not know the word for syn­a­gogue in Malayalam.

My moth­er and I had made a spe­cial trip to Cochin to see the syn­a­gogue. Mom was excit­ed because she had last been in a syn­a­gogue forty years ear­li­er, when she lived in Berke­ley with her par­ents. After she mar­ried my father and moved to India, she dis­cov­ered that our small town had church­es, mosques, a Bud­dhist stu­pa, but no syn­a­gogue. I had read about syn­a­gogues, had seen pic­tures, but I had nev­er been inside one, so I, too, was very excited.

I knew about the Cochin Jews, knew, too, that there weren’t enough for a minyan, because most had immi­grat­ed to Israel. Still, it was a tremen­dous dis­ap­point­ment when we arrived at the syn­a­gogue and dis­cov­ered the doors were firm­ly shut.

It has been emp­ty for a long time,” the dri­ver informed us. I thought you sim­ply want­ed to see the clock tow­er,” he point­ed to the sky.

We looked up at the bell and clock tow­er, which, Mom explained, approx­i­mat­ed a dome.

Back to the train sta­tion now?” the dri­ver asked.

No,” Mom respond­ed. We are going inside.”

Not pos­si­ble,” the dri­ver insisted.

There has to be some­one who can open it for us,” Mom said, and turn­ing around, walked into the shop that was across the road.

Do you know the man who has the keys to the big church?” she asked the shopkeeper.

The shop keep­er took in my mother’s 510” frame, the blue eyes, the white skin, and asked, You are Jewish?”

Yes,” Mom said, my daugh­ter and I are both Jew­ish. We want to pray in our church.”

The man glanced at the brown skin I inher­it­ed from my Indi­an father and shrugged. He wasn’t going to ques­tion kin­ship. I will call the man,” he said, and half an hour lat­er, the doors swung open.

We were the only two in the syn­a­gogue, and yet we whis­pered. We mar­veled at the blue tiles from Chi­na, the Bel­gian chan­de­lier, the brass that glinted.

Just imag­ine,” Mom said, It used to be filled with people.”

I thought about the gen­er­a­tions who had wor­shipped here, the men who had built the syn­a­gogue, all the way back to the ones who had arrived in Cochin on a ship cen­turies earlier.

I recalled that very moment when I was writ­ing The Invi­ta­tion. My char­ac­ter Lali is a female ver­sion of my father: Jaco­bite Syr­i­an Chris­t­ian, comes to Amer­i­ca for grad­u­ate school, mar­ries a Jew. What if, I won­dered, Lali’s ances­tors had once wor­shipped in the syn­a­gogue? Locals must have con­vert­ed to Judaism, for how else had that first ship load mar­ried, kept their faith? It was entire­ly plau­si­ble, then, for a Jew­ish fam­i­ly to decide to become Chris­tians at some point, and so I wrote it into my story.

This was the part of the nov­el that wor­ried me the most when Mom read an advanced copy.

I love it,” Mom’s words were sure, her accent still Amer­i­can. What I like best is Lal­i’s Jew­ish ances­tor, which means she is Jew­ish. I’ve nev­er read that in any nov­els, but it makes per­fect sense.”

I heaved a sigh of relief. I had Mom’s approval. And for me, that mat­tered the most.

Read Part 2 and Part 3 of Anne Cheri­an’s posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe here.

Born in India to an Amer­i­can Jew­ish moth­er and Indi­an father, Anne came to study com­par­a­tive lit­er­a­ture (Eng­lish, Clas­si­cal Greek) at Berke­ley and meet her Amer­i­can fam­i­ly. She stayed on to pur­sue her dream of being a writer. The Invi­ta­tion, her sec­ond nov­el, fea­tures Lali, an Indi­an, who mar­ries Jonathan, a Jew­ish doc­tor, the cou­ple being a reverse of her parents.