Author based ghost story on her own childhood experience

Bryna Wasserman’s ghost didn’t follow her to her Forest Hill home, but it did haunt her until she completed her first novel, The Naked Island.

The Rathnelly Ave. resident bases her story on a time in her childhood when she lived in a Hamilton, Ont., farmhouse she believed was haunted by a ghost. Although there are some similarities between Wasserman and Rachel, the heroine of the book, the story is completely fictional, she says.

The story is narrated by a ghost that follows Rachel as she grows up and moves away from her home in rural Ontario, after being betrayed by her older sister and boyfriend. Rachel’s heartbreak becomes the second example of the tale’s theme of possession, as the young woman becomes vulnerable to an invasion of a different kind — love — when she embarks on a new adventure on the "naked island" of Singapore.

"She is possessed, like so many of us are, by the cultural norms and pressures from our teachers, our education, our parents, as she goes out into the world," says Wasserman.

The story examines and explores cultural pressures and taboos as Rachel, a Jew, falls in love with Kifli Talib, a Malaysian Muslim, and the two have a passionate but forbidden affair.

The title of the book also conveys the idea of invasion. Wasserman pulled it from a speech made by Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain at the time Japan invaded Singapore.

"He called it the ‘naked island’ because it was so open to invasion. My character is also open to invasion because of her broken heart."

Wasserman, who started her career as a poet, spent 10 years writing the book, doing research by travelling to India, Nepal, Singapore and Australia so she could accurately portray the geographical settings as well as the inhabitants in her novel.

"When Rachel’s in India, I tried to incorporate the people’s warm and wonderful sense of humour."

During her travels, Wasserman took lots of pictures, including the one on the cover of the book showing a little girl in Kashmir, India. But much of that time was spent developing as a writer, she says.

"We all grow a lot and change in 10 years. I always wanted to write this story but I took the time to develop as a writer because I wanted to write it the way I wanted."

Wasserman says she also wanted to explore the theme of a "flowing identity," the changes that overtake and change us as we grow and experience new things.

"Everything we come up against changes our identity. It’s always a current (transient) identity we are in."

She wanted to continue to explore all the themes that were bouncing around in her head. In fact, it was these themes that Wasserman started with — not a plot — to formulate her story. In the process, Wasserman also discovered new themes about being a Canadian on a mission abroad.

"In some ways, Canada is still a myth to some people because they don’t know a lot about it," she says. "We, on the other hand, as Canadians, have the opportunity to experience other cultures and learn about them."

At present, although her book is still selling well at all major bookstores since its fall release, Wasserman has already begun working on her second novel, which is set in Sweden — where she spent much time as a child — during the 18th century reign of King Gustave III. Just as she did in her first novel, Wasserman has spent many hours researching the historical and cultural aspects for the setting of this new endeavour.

In the meantime, the author is talking at book clubs about her novel and the themes so crucial to her work. To book her time, email her at

About this article:

By: Sandie Benitah
Posted: Feb 8 2005 3:00 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto