Balance of Fragile Things: A Novel

Balance of Fragile Things: A Novel

by Olivia Chadha


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A multicultural American family comes together just as the world around them begins to fall apart

When Vic Singh finds a dead blue butterfly-out of place in his cold, upstate New York village-he knows something is terribly amiss. Yet he is too busy dodging the bully at his high school, let alone trying to live up to his father's expectations, to look much further into the environmental oddities around him. Meanwhile, for Vic's father, Paul, the ghosts of the past cause him to pressure his son to live up to his Sikh traditions-while his Latvian wife, Maija, is haunted by the present: She's having new and ominous psychic visions even though she can't read her own teenage children. Isabella, attempting to lose herself through her role in a school play, has an illness she can't seem to shake-and Vic, trying to find himself, is spending more time alone in nature.

Then Paul's father and Maija's mother move in to the family home, upending the delicate balance of this Indian/Latvian family and its two American teenagers. Yet, as the environmental devastation that Vic's butterflies have forewarned comes to bear, the family comes together in new and unexpected ways. Olivia Chadha's lovely, multilayered novel brings us into an extended family of three generations that strives to remain together in an unstable world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781618220097
Publisher: Byte Level Research
Publication date: 10/28/2012
Pages: 328
Sales rank: 218,898
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Olivia Chadha began her writing career with a stint in Los Angeles writing comic book scripts. Balance of Fragile Things is Olivia's first novel, and some of her other works have appeared in Pinyon, Damselfly Press, and Every Day Fiction.

Olivia holds a Ph.D. from Binghamton University's creative writing program and has taught writing at Binghamton University and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Like her stories and characters, Olivia brings a boundary-blurring perspective to her writing: She was born in Illinois, raised in New Jersey, and grew up in Southern California. Her family is of mixed Latvian/German and Indian descent.

Read an Excerpt

balance of fragile things

a novel

By Olivia Chadha

Ashland Creek Press

Copyright © 2012Olivia Chadha
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61822-009-7




Watching the Butterfly

Posted on October 4

Today, people are blind. Our age is less introspective than the previous. We worry neither for the small things nor the large things but rather for the now things.

In order to observe her closely, one must make amends with solitude. Not by walking alone but by approaching her with a singularity of mind and the purest of intentions. She delights in our awe, when we come to her without vanity or an architect's eye. She mourns us, too. You can see it in the wings of the swallowtail as she soars with a melancholic flight from one flower to the next. There is a desire for an audience that somehow is lost on those who can no longer see the smallest things. Does she wish for sun? It is wrong to assume she has disconnected from us. Each time we walk past an oak, mourning cloak, field of springtime grass, or newly snowcapped mountain, she sees.

To be human is to be a part of nature. To feel separate is to be the anomaly. In her presence we feel the sorrows of modernity fall away like the chrysalis giving way to time. In her presence we feel once more hers, a thing belonging—simultaneously a child and an elder.

Why would we watch a butterfly? When we don't have time to look up and cannot let go of modernity, why would we try? These delicate things are indicators of the forest's health. They tell stories of flood and drought. Their wings are maps to worlds unseen. They are cartographers and pollinators. When the forest and soil are healthy, they are, too. Adults lay their eggs on one kind of plant. The caterpillars eat that one kind of plant. They mummify themselves on one type of plant. The adult then flies in that area eating the nectar from flowers, rotting fruit, or mineral-rich rainwater collecting on the ground. If the host plant is suffering, water is toxic, ground quality is poor—then the butterflies are directly affected. Watch them, and watch the health of the forest and land. When we watch a butterfly flutter from flower to leaf to sky, teasingly, as though its wings are attached to invisible thread that some unseen puppeteer is pulling, we can also see the strength of those living things around it.

When we see an ancient butterfly nearing the end of its life with wings tattered like sails, still searching for nourishment, we may come to a greater understanding of what connects us all. Even battle-scarred, we all still seek the sun, try to avoid pain, and attempt to find food. Thus, all life is connected: Insecta, Lepidoptera, Mammalia.

The insects beneath your feet are managing the earth on which you walk. The trees you pass are providing food and shelter for hundreds of living things in addition to the shade they provide you and your home. The bees busy in your flower bed are carrying with them saddlebags of pollen and pollinating every other flower, including vegetables growing in your area. What most people don't know is that butterflies and moths aren't just flying flowers: They are the second most important pollinator next to bees. They, too, have a job in the world, and looking pretty is one of their lesser engagements. What we choose to notice about these connections differentiates us as a species. Perhaps many of us no longer see her as she is; rather, she has become a reflection of how we see ourselves.




When Joe Balestrieri landed a solid right on Vic Singh's nose, the entire student body of Cobalt High probably heard the crack. The sound echoed in Vic's ears as his face went hot, stomach dropped, tears gushed, and copious amounts of blood splattered the front of his T-shirt as well as his assailant's.

Vic's first reaction was worry as he gingerly put his hand in the pocket of his corduroy jacket and felt for something. Then, relieved, he balanced himself against the lockers so he wouldn't faint. The blow had loosened the patka that enclosed his unshorn hair; it fell like an autumn leaf to the linoleum floor among blackened splotches of gum. His braid tumbled halfway down his back, a precursor to an imminent turban-wearing future. The length of his hair shocked even Vic as he stood with it naked to the world. He could have dodged the punch and prevented a broken nose; he actually thought of this option as he watched Joe's fist—in slow motion, like a heat-seeking missile—follow the trajectory to his face. But Vic was more concerned with what was in his pocket than with Joe's simian fist.

Vic spit blood, and the crowd of rubbernecking students ooh'd and ahh'd, then moved closer. The pain from his septum sped through his nerves and reached his toes. This had been the worst day of his life, and at that precise moment, he wondered why he'd gotten out of bed at all. It had begun with a freak rainstorm that had drenched him on his walk through the abandoned industrial park on his way to school. He'd taken refuge under a gathering of trees.

"Jerk," Vic said under his breath. He looked at Joe and imagined what it would be like to grow four inches and be able to stare down into his soulless eyes. It wasn't fair. Vic was just trying to get by, like everyone else, but Joe had singled him out long ago with tired teasing and insults like "Ali Baba" and "Babu"—though this was the first time he'd physically assaulted him. Joe was Goliath, and he had to have a weakness. Today Vic's EYE FOR AN EYE AND THE WHOLE WORLD'S BLIND T-shirt had ironically attracted Joe to him like a huffer to an open jar of glue.

"You need glasses or something?" Vic said.

Joe laughed, though he took a few steps back.

Vic would get his revenge. He wouldn't react carelessly. He'd craft a plan that would show up Joe in the end. If he couldn't best him with strength, he'd take him down with his brains. Like Batman, who went full-throttle against any and all evil in Gotham, Vic would have his day, he vowed to himself.

He adjusted his nose and realized that this already large feature on his face was now even larger from the swelling. Vic had his father's nose. It was a sometimes trunk-like proboscis, depending on the time of day and allotment of shadow. His mother had told him his profile illustrated his relation to great rulers across oceans and time. These rulers, she said, were conquerors who led their people to victory. Vic had never learned more about these rulers, their names, or their empires, so his mind had constructed disembodied kingly faces with enormous noses, lips with wide moustaches, and heads with heavy crowns. Vic's eyebrows, soft as tufts of rabbit fur and bushy like the wool behind the ear of a yak, were also the exact eyebrows that framed the moon-shaped face of his grandfather, Sardar Harbans Singh. Vic knew this only from photographs; his grandfather lived in India, and they had never met. But here, now, on this North American continent in the tenth month of the year, the vessels that kept Vic's beak alive were bringing forth a torrent of blood.

"Oh my God." Katie, the freckle-faced object of Vic's affection, put her hands over her mouth.

"I'm okay," Vic said through the blood and tried to smile, which made Katie cringe again. The posse scattered, though Joe stood frozen.

For once Vic was thankful for the robust size of his nose, as he assumed the size allowed a particularly shocking amount of blood to flow. To him, it seemed, his dissimilarity was the cause of his bully magnetism. He'd never cut his hair, because kesh was one of The Five Ks of Sikhism, and he wore apatka to keep his hair neat and clean. Or perhaps it was the language Vic spoke when he'd first entered school, something he called Engjabi

Excerpted from balance of fragile things by Olivia Chadha. Copyright © 2012 by Olivia Chadha. Excerpted by permission of Ashland Creek Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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