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Smoke and Mirrors—An Interview with Tara Isabel Zambrano

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) June 22, 2015

Tara Isabel Zambrano

Art by Ashley Inguanta

There’s a long tradition in literature of connecting food and sex. Here, you seem to be taking that down a dark path, the food a relief from this particular type of sex. Why do you think food has this connection, this saving power?

When I was six or seven, I saw my mother serving food to a hungry boy. I can still recall his expression after he ate. I realized, when you’re hungry, there is no longer a barrier in your mind that separates right from wrong. What else can be more powerful than that? So, I used it in this story as an escape mechanism.

Obviously, even with these memories and occasional treats, your narrator is in the worst possible scenario—literally, I can’t imagine a worse hell. How do civilized countries—India, the U.S., whomever—allow this type of slavery to continue?

I believe that the problem of sex slavery/flesh trade is universal. It is yet another example of the physically stronger section of the society controlling the weaker. In some ways, I think, it is there because even though we, as a race, condemn it, we lack compassion and its skillful execution to put an end to it. Also, better and stricter laws can prevent such crimes. The purpose of this story is to evoke empathy for the characters who are stuck in such situations.

Your use of the name “Julie” seems to be a subtle but effective hint that this ring extends its grasp to the West. Is that what you were going for?

The East always has a fascination with the West and I wanted to portray that fascination here, in a subtle style, like you said. But it can also be interpreted in a way you mentioned which makes the issue global.

The end of the first vignette tells us that Rubina isn’t ready to leave. Does that mean that there’s more escape planned here than ice cream and almond sauce?

I wanted to convey that there is an option to escape if carefully planned. And in this case, the narrator is concerned about Rubina’s child, who is growing up in such difficult circumstances, and hence wants her to leave. In the world where everyone is exploiting or being exploited, the narrator is thinking about what’s best for Rubina’s child.

I tend to eat Indian food about once a week and wish I could cook it myself. What’s your best korma recipe?

The one made by my mother: slow-cooked meat marinated in yogurt and spices, sprinkled with cilantro and garam masala. Served hot with a side of her radiant smile. Oh, well; I am a vegetarian now.

About the Author

Tara Isabel Zambrano works as a semiconductor chip designer. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, Slice, Triquarterly, Yemassee, Passages North and others. Her full-length flash collection, Death, Desire And Other Destinations, is out in Sept’2020 with OKAY Donkey Press. She lives in Texas.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

About the Artist

Ashley Inguanta is a writer, art photographer, installation artist, and holistic educator. Her work has most recently appeared in Atticus Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, and the anthology The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest chapbook of poems, The Island, The Mountain, & The Nightblooming Field honors a human connection with the natural world.

This interview appeared in Issue Forty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Eight
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