Q&A: A New Novel Tells the Story of Hurricane Ike

Texas is vast, diverse, and complicated. It can be nearly impossible to describe to people who don’t live here, who didn’t grow up in and around the nuances of this state. But Kimberly Garza, BA ’07, MA ’11, did, and she’s written a book that feels like Texas, in the small moments and the big. Set mostly in Garza’s birthplace of Galveston, with scenes in Brownsville and Uvalde (where Garza grew up), The Last Karankawas almost reads more like a book of short stories than a novel. 

The book, out August 2022 from Macmillan, weaves together the perspectives of multiple characters whose stories intertwine as they endure Hurricane Ike, which ravaged the Texas coast in 2008. Garza says the book started as a series of disconnected stories, but at her editor’s urging, she wove them together more directly and the novel came to be. The stories all connect primarily through one character: Carly, a young woman whose grandmother has always sworn to her that their family are direct descendants of the Karankawa people, who for years were largely believed to be extinct but lived along the stretch of the Texas coast where Galveston now stands. (In recent years, the Karankawa people living in this part of Texas have begun to revive their culture and fight for state and federal recognition.) While the tale of Carly’s grandmother’s family history is a small piece of this sweeping story, it speaks to the heart of the novel, which explores what it means to belong: In a physical place, in a family, in a country.  

The Alcalde sat down with Garza to chat about the book. 

What do you hope people take away from this book? 

I wanted to showcase Texas in this way because it felt the most natural for me. This is my Texas. This version, it’s got many languages, it’s got many cultures and religions and practices. There are biases, there are rituals, there are clashes. But there’s also this beautiful blend of experiences: Cultural, racial, ethnic … it’s a melting pot, to use the cliche. And that’s my Texas, and I’m very proud of it. The older I get, the more I travel, the more I realize that that is not everyone’s Texas, nor is it the thing that anybody who’s not from here might think of. I hope I wrote it in a way that feels real as opposed to a paradise. It’s not this beautiful, constantly harmonious blend of cultures. It has its problems and its pitfalls. But I think diversity is one of our strengths, and I love the idea of being able to portray that. 

Can you talk about that in terms of Galveston specifically, where most of this book takes place? 

Galveston is so rich and diverse already and has this crazy history. It was this tiny little island that happens to be this hub for multitudes of people. So, it just ended up being this really interesting place, partly because it’s a tourist destination, too, but it has this really rich history.  

You even mention at one point in the book that the water in Galveston looks a little murky, which was funny. 

I feel like it’s got to be authentic. I remember when we were designing the cover, my editor asked me, “Are there any particular images that you want?” And I was like, “Well, you know, if we do a beachscape, it can’t have blue water.” If I had a blue water photo on the cover, people would be like, “That is not Galveston.” And I love Galveston, but we haven’t got blue water. We did come up with this cover, which is gorgeous, and I love it. There’s blue, but it’s a little dreamy, right? It’s sort of this vision of Galveston, maybe somebody’s dream of it. 

You’ve lived in most of the locations where this book is set. How did you both weave your experience into this book while also creating something new? 

One of the risks of being a writer is that we’re almost innately narcissistic, or at least the tendency might be there. There’s a lot of navel gazing. And I think one of the joyful things of writing fiction is that I can take on somebody else’s point of view. I can create a character who is very different from me, and I did that many times in this book. Some aspect of me is there, or some aspect of someone I love is there, but what a boring book if it was just 12 different versions of Kim Garza.  

One of the overarching themes of this book is that internal struggle many of us may be familiar with: the pull to return home or the push to leave your home. Can you talk more about that?  

I grew up in a small town, and there’s something very distinctive about the experience of leaving and deciding to stay gone. I haven’t lived in Uvalde since I was 18, and so when I go back now, it feels like a different place. I’m a different person. I was really interested in these questions of the lure of home, especially when I look at people like my mother, who was an immigrant and lived in America for maybe six or seven years before she could go back to the Philippines to even visit. This idea of where home is and what that means, and what it means to leave home and what it means to stay there, or to want to do either, is very different for everybody. I didn’t ever want to come to a conclusion like, “Here’s what this book is saying,” but rather showcase all the many ways that this idea of home is complicated, and it’s as much as comfort as it is an anchor. And for better or worse, people out there are constantly wondering what it is to belong somewhere, and what it is to go elsewhere and find a new belonging, a new place to call home.  

CREDIT: Lindsay Garza


1 Comment

Post a Comment