What It Meant to Survive by Mala Kumar


This item will be released October 1, 2024.

Featuring strong queer female protagonists who must navigate class, race, religion, language, and nationality, Mala Kumar’s What It Meant to Survive is a poignant and heartbreaking commentary on life in modern-day America and Nigeria.


Ramya and Juliet begin to uplift each other and heal when they match on Tinder. For nearly a decade, Ramya, an American of Indian origin from Virginia, has grappled with her survivor’s guilt from a devastating mass shooting that occurred during her last year of university. Halfway around the world in Nigeria, Juliet has survived family tragedies, economic downturns, and an oppressive patriarchy. With a one-chance swipe on their phones in a country foreign to them both, the two women begin a remarkable romantic relationship that most fairy tales wouldn’t dare to depict.

But can they hold onto each other?

As their lives intertwine, Ramya suffers acute memory loss so pronounced that she sometimes forgets where she is, who she’s with, and even who she is. Periodically, Juliet experiences time freezes that throw her out of sync with everyone around her. Ultimately, the two women choose to begin a new life together in New York City, where their love will be acknowledged and respected. But for Juliet to make it through the American immigration process, the two women must get to the root causes of these memory loss and time-lapse episodes by coming to terms with their pasts.

Written by a singularly talented, wildly imaginative novelist, What It Meant to Survive is a powerful and bracing work of fiction inspired by the Virginia Tech Massacre, and the author’s real-life experience navigating its long-term social and emotional impacts.

“Engaging and threaded with wry wit, What It Meant to Survive is a deep dive into trauma and love. Those twin fulcrums take us from London to Kenya to Nigeria, South Africa, Dubai, and New York—a globe-spanning look at the ways in which trauma haunts us and scars us, and how love can grow us and heal us. The queer love story between Ramya, an Indian American survivor of a mass shooting, and Juliet, a Nigerian fashion designer, is beautiful and full of heart, a love all of us wish to have.” —SJ Sindu, author of The Goth House Experiment

What It Meant to Survive is a riveting, globe-trotting, fast-paced, page-turner of a novel. Part love story, part psychological thriller, the book asks big questions about how we claim our power and find ways to not just survive but thrive in a world that so often feels like it wants to destroy us. What It Meant to Survive will fill your heart, break it, put it back together, and fill it again.” – Rahul Mehta, author of Quarantine and Feeding the Ghosts

“Captivating and fantastical, What It Meant to Survive follows the journey of Ramya and Juliet, two women from vastly different backgrounds, as they fall in love and navigate the social and political complexities of modern-day America and Nigeria. Mala Kumar deftly explores the depths of resilience and the power of human connection. What It Meant to Survive is unlike any love story I’ve ever read.” —Susie Luo, author of Paper Names

“Mala Kumar’s What It Meant to Survive is an extraordinary journey through the depths of human resilience and the multifaceted nature of love. Through her vivid prose and witty humor, Kumar brings to life the fear, despair, and ultimately, the hope that defined her survival of a school shooting. Through the intertwined narratives of Ramya and Juliet, Kumar showcases the transformative power of love, particularly queer love, as a source of healing. Their journey across continents and boundaries serves as a testament to the strength of the human spirit and the profound impact of love in overcoming adversity.” —Nithya Ramesh, editor of the anthology, I Hope You’ll Still Love Me

MALA KUMAR is the author of the 2014 novel, The Paths of Marriage. What It Meant to Survive is her second novel. Her op-eds, interviews, and essays have appeared in The Guardian, The Advocate, TechCrunch, USA Today, and India Abroad. In her professional life, Mala is a global leader in tech for social good. She lives in New York City with her wife.

Visit her website for more information about her writing and work.

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