Utah author Camron Wright tells Taj’s true story
Taj Rowland’s adoption story starts not with a well-meaning rescue, but with a violent kidnap. At 7 years old he is torn from his Indian family and flown to the United States to be placed with a loving, but unsuspecting, Utah family.
Full of heartbreak and coincidence almost too unbelievable for fiction, Taj’s story is all too real.
Alpine, Utah, author Camron Wright tells Taj’s true story in “The Orphan Keeper,” published this month. Wright is the award-winning author of “Letters for Emily” and “The Rent Collector.” In “The Orphan Keeper,” Wright artfully stews narration into the curry-scented landscape of Taj’s early life. The reader feels transported, an eyewitness.
Laurena Mayne Davis: How did you discover Taj Rowland’s story?
Camron Wright: My neighbor, a screenwriter, was introduced to Taj several years ago. We were out together at a basketball game and as we talked story, he began to tell me about Taj’s kidnapping and journey. My jaw dropped. I knew I had to meet the man. Events with my previous book, “The Rent Collector,” were winding down and so arrangements were made. Even then it took several months to convince Taj that I could do justice to his story.
Davis: Why were you moved to tell Taj’s story?
Wright: I was attracted to Taj’s story because of its deep ties to family, as well as its message of persistence and determination. On one hand, Taj’s story is unique. (How many people do you know who were kidnapped as children?) On the other, it’s also a universal story. We’ve all had moments when we’ve wondered about our own lives, where we’ve questioned our place in the world. We’ve all ached to belong.
Davis: What did you do to make sure you got the descriptive details of India’s culture right?
Wright: I read several books about India, both novels and guidebooks. I watched multiple movies, both documentaries and dramas. Taj also felt strongly that I visit the actual locations where his story occurred and so I traveled to India to view it all firsthand. The trip turned out to be crucial. In addition to improving my descriptions, in India several significant story elements nudged into place.
Davis: Did Taj have veto power on sharing elements of his life?
Wright: Taj never asked for veto power and I never offered. The closest he came was saying something like, “Please don’t write me to be a serial killer.” We didn’t really know each other at that point, so I appreciated his trust. In the end, I didn’t let him see the story until it was finished. It was a scary moment for each of us. I delivered it on a weekday evening at about 6 p.m., and then received a call from him early the next morning. He’d stayed up all night reading — and gratefully, he offered nothing but praise.
I should add that during the writing process, as the story unfolded, I felt compelled to relate his account as accurately as I could — which is often hard for a fiction writer. It’s true that the story was sprinkled with a dusting of fiction to ensure it was captivating, but said sprinkling was very light and always with purpose. Keep in mind that Taj was kidnapped when he was just 7. While he remembers general situations, some of the gritty cracks needed filling. To that end, the goal for me always remained the same: Tell Taj’s story as accurately and in as compelling a way as possible.
Davis: How has Taj’s story connected with you as a parent?
Wright: Every parent’s worst nightmare is to lose a child. We all know the feeling of being in a store, turning around, and finding our child gone. In most cases, the clueless youngster has simply wandered off and is fine. Still, that momentary feeling of dread gives us a glimpse into the terror Taj’s mother must have felt day after day after day — for nearly two decades. To that end, Taj’s story has made me more appreciative as a parent. It’s reminded me of the importance of family. It’s taught me about perseverance and patience. It’s also helped me to recognize that given time, life will often mold tragedy into triumph. We just need to be patient.
Davis: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers?
Wright: Early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Taj’s story resonates. It’s one of those magical stories that we find ourselves sharing with others. In short, I feel both grateful and humbled that I’ve had the opportunity to play a part.
Davis: What do you want readers to take away?
Wright: I hope readers are both entertained and engaged. I hope the story keeps them turning pages, but also makes them more appreciative of friends and family.
Another message that has stuck with me, and I hope will stick with readers as well, is the power of a mother’s love. Nearly 20 years after her child was taken, Taj’s Indian mother was still visiting Hindu temples, still pleading to her gods that her son would return. That level of resolve and enduring love is astounding.