Author Playlists

Thrity Umrigar’s playlist for her novel “The Museum of Failures”

“As an immigrant who has traveled ten thousand miles, Remy himself is a Starman, someone who has traveled across space and time and occasionally still feels like an alien or a stranger in his new, adopted country.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Thrity Umrigar’s The Museum of Failures is a powerful novel of family and secrets.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

“[A] rich and emotionally gripping story about familial love and the destructive power of secrets… Umrigar continues to impress.”

In her own words, here is Thrity Umrigar’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Museum of Failures:

Come Healing by Leonard Cohen

This song is perhaps the spiritual ancestor of The Museum of Failures. Although it is not featured in the novel, this song was used as the soundtrack for a pivotal scene in the 2019 movie, The Farewell, which was the inspiration for my novel.  To me, the lines, “The splinters that you carried/the cross you left behind” describe the trauma of immigration and its ensuing loss better than any other.  My protagonist, Remy Wadia, is an Indian-American businessman living a comfortable life in Columbus, Ohio. However, he is haunted by his past, specifically his strained relationship with his mother.  Remy, who led a privileged life in India, has come to America with every imaginable advantage—a good education, fluent English, a cosmopolitan upbringing, good looks.  And yet, he feels this constant tug between past and present, that sense of the divided self. These lyrics would speak to him, even while the chorus—“Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind” would bring him comfort.

Mr. Tambourine Man by Bob Dylan

Remy’s father, Cyrus Wadia, is a big Bob Dylan fan and has exposed his poet son to Dylan’s music, so much so that Remy says he knows the words to Dylan’s songs “as well as he knew his own name.”  As Remy walks the silent night streets of Columbus on his way to a classmate’s birthday party, a line from this particular song—“The ancient empty streets too dead for dreaming”—“swam through his head, as sweet and familiar as breath.”  Cyrus had bonded with Remy by making him listen to Dylan as they drove around Bombay, while explaining Dylan’s cultural significance to his son.

Dheere Se Aaja by Rajinder Krishan

This is a classic lullaby from a 1951 Indian film. Even though Remy would have no memory of this, I can imagine Shirin, his mother, singing this song while putting her sons to bed. The lyrics say, “Enter slowly, into my eyes/Sleep come slowly.”  Along with its gentle, haunting, melancholy melody, the lyrics would lull a tired Remy to sleep. I can imagine the look of wistfulness and pride on Shirin’s face as she watches her sons fall asleep.

Snowing in Brooklyn by Ferron

Remy’s American wife, Kathy, introduces him to the singer-songwriter Ferron and they spend the first winter of their relationship playing “her albums over and over until midafternoon on Sundays, drinking coffee as they stayed under the covers and watched the snow come down in drifts outside the bedroom window.”  Born and raised in a tropical city, Remy is fascinated by snow and this song would hold a special place in his heart, melding into his memory of that first, magical winter in America.

Shadows on a Dime by Ferron

Remy is jogging at a city park in Bombay when his song plays on his iPhone. “As always, the haunting melody produced a hollow, smoky feeling in Remy’s chest.”  He gazes at a flock of birds taking flight while he’s running and so is unprepared for the line, “Who would I be if I didn’t sing?”  The question now produces an existential crisis in Remy as he questions why he’d stopped writing poetry and traded in his passion for a respectable job?  “Why had he tossed off that gift, the salvation of his childhood, as lightly as he had?”  The family secret that Shirin has revealed to her son a few days ago, has shaken the foundational myths of Remy’s life and this song lyric triggers further introspection and self-examination.

Father to Son by Queen

Both Remy and his dad, Cyrus, would have followed the career of Queen’s flamboyant singer,  Freddie Mercury.  Like Freddie, born Farrokh Bulsara, the Wadias are Parsis, a small ethno-religious community in India, who immigrated there from Persia. The Parsis are so few in numbers that they take pride in the success of their own.  Besides, given the closeness between Remy and Cyrus, this song would’ve reverberated.  The lyrics speak to that closeness and also in Cyrus’s fierce pride in his son: “I fought with you, fought on your side/Long before you were born.”  Later, after Remy discovers the family secret, one can imagine Cyrus speaking to him from the other world: “Don’t destroy what you see/Your country to be/Just keep building on the ground/That’s been won.”

Starman by David Bowie

This song ranks high on Remy’s iTunes playlist.  The jaunty melody, Bowie’s beautiful vocals and the enigmatic but optimistic lyrics appeal to his sensibilities. As an immigrant who has traveled ten thousand miles, Remy himself is a Starman, someone who has traveled across space and time and occasionally still feels like an alien or a stranger in his new, adopted country. He identifies with the lyrics: “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky/He’s told us not to blow it/’Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”

Save the Last Dance for Me by The Drifters

Cyrus and Shirin Wadia dance to this song at Remy’s first birthday party.  Things are tense between them and Cyrus is afraid that Shirin is drifting away from him. But feeling Cyrus close to her as they dance and affected by the music, Shirin softens. “She wanted them to fetch Remy and have the three of them waltz home, adrift on this cloud of tenderness and music.”

Beautiful Boy by John Lennon

This delicate, poignant song, written by Lennon to his second son, Sean, would have undoubtedly struck a responsive chord in Cyrus, who thought of Remy as his beautiful boy.  I can picture both Cyrus and Shirin singing this to Remy as he drifts off to sleep.  And the veracity of the devastating line, “Life is what happens to you/While you’re busy making other plans,” would be proven to Remy after he arrives in India and has his world turned upside down.

also at Largehearted Boy:

Thrity Umrigar’s playlist for her novel Honor

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Thrity Umrigar is the bestselling author of nine previous novels, including Honor, which was a Reese’s Book Club Pick, as well as three picture books and a memoir. Her books have been published in over fifteen countries and in several languages. A former journalist, she has contributed to the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and other newspapers.  She is a recipient of the Nieman Fellowship to Harvard, and winner of the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Seth Rosenberg prize and a Lambda Literary award.  She is currently a Distinguished University Professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider supporting the site to keep it strong.