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Inwood Love Story Explores Immigrant Dramas

By Carla Zanoni | April 21, 2011 11:59am
Jon Michaud lived in Inwood with his wife, who moved to Inwood from the Dominican Republic when she was 9 years old, and chose to set his first novel in the neighborhood.
Jon Michaud lived in Inwood with his wife, who moved to Inwood from the Dominican Republic when she was 9 years old, and chose to set his first novel in the neighborhood.
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Courtesy of Algonquin Books

By Carla Zanoni

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

INWOOD — Jon Michaud's "When Tito Loved Clara" is the love story of two Inwood-raised Dominican-Americans, one who has left Inwood and another who has stayed, and their complicated nest of family secrets.

Michaud is a former neighborhood resident, and the book is loosely based on his life, and that of his wife, who moved to Inwood from the Dominican Republic when she was 9 years old. "When Tito Loved Clara" is as much a love story as a tale of the tug-of-war of cultural identity many immigrants when living in the United States.

"Inwood is a fascinating place in terms of all the history and relations across ethnic barriers," Michaud said. "It's a whole melting pot reduced to a small scale."

"When Tito Loved Clara" is a love story about two Inwood-raised Dominican Americans, but also tells the tale of a changing neighborhood.
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Courtesy of Algonquin Books

Michaud, who will discuss his novel on the Leonard Lopate show on WNYC Thursday at noon, said that tension went a long way in shaping his novel, and he credits the changing cultures and communities where he has lived as having often inspired his writing.

Raised in the suburbs of Maryland, Michaud is the son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer who grew up in Tehran, Iran, Bombay, India, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, before first moving to Park Slope when he came to New York during the early 1990s.

He then moved to Inwood, which many residents say is going through cultural changes, after meeting his then-girlfriend-now-wife during the late 1990s.

"I am interested in that kind of thing, struggles between neighbors in a gentrifying neighborhood," he said.

"When I moved to Inwood I was interested in watching it play out," Michaud, who now lives in Maplewood, N.J., with his wife and two sons. "Gentrification plays out through all of New York City, it goes back all the way back to the earliest years of New York history."

Although it took Michaud seven years to write his novel, fitting in writing between his work as head librarian at the New Yorker and family obligations, he said he felt pressure to finish his writing before someone else came along and set their novel in Inwood.

"Nobody had written a novel set in Inwood, which in New York it's hard to find a patch of earth that hasn't been memorialized," he said noting his continued deep connection to the place.

"In addition to my family and the Dominican community, Inwood is the most important audience to me."

The Leonard Lopate Show airs at Noon on FM 93.9 and AM 82, and a podcast of the show will be available on the Leaonard Lopate show website.