Salman Rushdie to help launch debut novel from B’Heights author

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She is going live with a little help from her friend.

Brooklyn Heights author Vanessa Manko will launch her new novel in Dumbo on Aug. 25, aided by the star power of famed British novelist Salman Rushdie.

“The Invention of Exile” is Vanessa Manko’s first novel, but the book has actually been in the works for seven years. During that time, Manko worked part-time as Rushdie’s research assistant, and spent the rest of her time on her own research and writing. Manko said she has come a long way since she started the tome, and is excited to see her creation out in the world.

“When I began the novel, I had no idea where I was going,” she said. “But I know I wanted to tell a story about this man, and I think I reached that goal.”

“The Invention of Exile” follows Austin Voronkov, a young Russian inventor who is deported after being wrongly accused of attending an anarchist meeting in Connecticut during the Red Scare. Voronkov’s travels continue when he and his family are forced to flee once again due to the Russian Civil War, this time to Mexico City. His wife and children eventually make it to the United States, but Voronkov is kept out due to the black mark on his record, and the bulk of the book deals with the trials and tribulations the stem from his separation from his loved ones.

The book is a work of fiction, but Manko said she drew from real life to tell the story. The protagonist is modeled after her grandfather, who suffered a similar fate. And while the character’s personality and relationship with his wife are fictionalized, Manko said the novel is an exploration of the true story of the grandfather she never knew.

“The essence of the story is a true story,” she said. “I’ve imagined what his life was like in Mexico City. That’s what I tried to get a sense of — this man alone.”

The book launch will feature a reading from the novel and a conversation between Manko and Rushdie, exploring the motivations behind the book and the themes it explores. Rushdie famously went into hiding in 1989 when his novel “The Satanic Verses” sparked outrage among some Muslims, who considered its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad to be blasphemous. Rushdie is no stranger to the exile and loss that Manko’s protagonist experiences, she said.

“I definitely think he might have some affinity to my character,” said Manko.

“The Invention of Exile” at Powerhouse Arena [37 Main St. between Front and Water streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049,] Aug. 25 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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