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December 17, 2021

Kirthana Ramisetti's Playlist for Her Novel "Dava Shastri's Last Day"

Dava Shastri's Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

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.

Kirthana Ramisetti's novel Dava Shastri's Last Day is an engaging debut about power, family, and music.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Ramisetti draws nuanced characters who are introspective and entertaining. A solid debut that will appeal to readers who enjoy quirky family stories."

In her own words, here is Kirthana Ramisetti's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Dava Shastri's Last Day:

Dava Shastri's Last Day is my debut novel, but it was my third time attempting to write a book. When the first two efforts fizzled, the third time around, I decided to really go for it and write about all the things that interested me and inspired me, including music.

There's not a lot I have in common with my main character Dava, but the one thing that we do share is our love of music, and how it changed our lives. My novel even features a mixtape titled “Favorite Thing (A Biography of Sorts),” in which Dava communicates her life story through her favorite songs. Since that mixtape exists as a Spotify playlist (which you can listen to here!), I thought I'd share some other songs that were vital to Dava the character and Dava the novel.

“It Makes No Difference,” The Band

A few months before I decided to write Dava, I listened to an episode of the Celebration Rock podcast in which music critics Steven Hyden and Hanif Abdurraqib discussed the documentary The Last Waltz. The doc shows The Band's final performance together with its original lineup, and features performances from their famous friends such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

The pair's discussion of “It Makes No Difference” really resonated with me, as both noted it was a highlight of the film. When I looked up the performance I also quickly fell in love with the song, a yearning, shattering ballad of heartbreak. I played it on repeat, falling deeper for its charms each time, and gave my experience of discovery of this song to Dava. The Last Waltz, which is a film that captures a public farewell, also dovetails neatly with the themes of my novel, since my own character is reckoning with her public and private goodbyes.

“Brand New Day,” Van Morrison

Van the Man also makes a memorable appearance in The Last Waltz, which my characters comment upon while watching the film. That's because Van Morisson and his album Moondance are referenced quite a few times in the novel since it is Dava's husband's favorite album. I really wanted to highlight “Brand New Day” in my book because I remembered the first time I saw The Royal Tenenbaums, and the final scene concluded with "Everyone," another song from Moondance. And at the time, I thought that “Brand New Day” would have been the better choice for that scene (but have since changed my mind).

Even so, I've always thought “Brand New Day” would be a great choice to play during a film’s cathartic final scene. And so I finally had a chance to take this song I've always loved and make it an important part of my novel's soundtrack instead.

“Holes” and “Opus 40,” Mercury Rev

I remember buying Deserter's Songs in 1998 because of all the raves it received from the British music press. At first, I found it deeply weird. Then I found it deeply beautiful while also weird. To this day, I don't think I've heard anything else quite like it.

For my novel, I had to pick an album that Dava and her husband would listen to while trying to figure out their future, speaking all night long from sunset to sunrise. And as I mentally scrolled through the list of albums I had owned that dated back to the mid-'90s, I remembered this album. The music on Deserter's Songs is majestic and odd, and the perfect soundtrack for their night together. These two songs in particular are referenced in the novel, and have particular meaning to Dava.

And here's something I learned from Googling the album just now: The Band's Levon Helm and Garth Hudson sat in with Mercury Rev during the recording sessions for this album! Considering that both groups’ music plays a significant role in my novel, I am pleased by this coincidence.

“Find the River,” R.E.M.

This was the band that ignited my love of music when I was a teenager, turning music from merely songs on the radio to something momentous and deeply personal to me. I really don't think my novel would exist without my love of music, and so for that reason I have to include them here. The gorgeous “Find the River” reminds me of my ambitious and yearning younger self, and how this song always made me feel hopeful for the future.

“The Fire,” Natalie Prass

When I first started writing my novel, I was trying to recall my CD collection from my teens and twenties, so I could have something beloved and familiar to listen to as I worked. I kept a running list as I remembered each new album (having thrown out my collection of CDs long ago in a rash, regretful decision), and soon came upon a dispiriting pattern. I had owned way too many albums by dudes and dudes in bands. And so rather than listening to old favorites, I decided to start searching for new music to soundtrack my writing days, specifically by women artists.

I discovered Natalie Prass on an episode of Song Exploder, and immediately fell in love. I listened to her album The Future and the Past first thing every day when I worked on the first draft of my novel, and found it to be so energizing--the equivalent of musical caffeine. It’s hard to single out one track, but “The Fire” represents that feeling of excitement and readiness to pick up where I had left off in my work.

“Slow Burn,” Kacey Musgraves

After The Future and the Past, I always listened to Golden Hour next. Throughout the drafting and revisions process, these are the two albums I listened to the most, and will always remind me of writing Dava.

“Dava,” Tom Buck

There is a song named after my main character which features prominently in my novel. And the amazing, crazy thing is that it was turned into an actual song in the audiobook--and I had a hand in writing it.

When I first started writing my novel, I was also teaching myself the ukulele. As I was writing the lyrics to “Dava,” I came up with a melody to the chorus, and couldn’t get it out of my head. I recorded a video of myself playing the song, just so I’d have a record of the chords I had played.

Cut to three years later, when the audiobook team told me that they wanted to turn “Dava” into a real song, and if I had any ideas to share. It was amazing to be able to share that video I had taken and see the inklings of my melody turned into a full-fledged, catchy song. As a music fan, I would have never dreamed that in publishing my debut novel I’d also have the opportunity to write a song too.

“Magic,” Olivia Newton John

I think of this as a bonus track of sorts. A few weeks after the beginning of the pandemic, I was lucky enough to receive an offer on my novel. After my agent called me with the good news, in a daze I began reading Stereogum’s The Number Ones column, which tracks every song that has ever reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts. This particular column was about “Magic,” which is from the musical Xanadu.

The song is a message of encouragement from a muse, and includes the lyrics, “And if all your hopes survive, destiny will arrive.” When I heard that, the momentousness of the book deal finally hit me, and I burst into tears. Twenty years and three novel drafts later, it felt like destiny had arrived.

As a former entertainment reporter for Newsday and the New York Daily News, Kirthana Ramisetti has written her fair share of stories about the lives (and deaths) of the rich and famous. She has a master's degree in creative writing from Emerson College, and her work has been published in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. Dava Shastri's Last Day is her first novel, and she lives in New York City.

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