For international writer Sujata Massey, there's no place like home

Glancing out the windows of Sujata Massey's house on an early spring day, you could be on a quiet street anywhere, in Japan, or India, or Minneapolis, Minn.

Massey shares a bond with all of those places, but her heart and home are in the Roland Park area. She lives near Roland Avenue, in Tuxedo Park.

An Indian tablecloth graces Massey's dining room table, where the award-wining author and former reporter — best known for her series of mystery novels set in Japan featuring sleuth Rei Shimura — does most of her writing.

India, specifically the India of the 1920s through World War II, is what Massey, 50, spent five years researching and writing about for her 11th and latest novel, "The Sleeping Dictionary," a historical saga with elements of espionage that's quite a switch from her popular mysteries. (The title refers to young Indian women who lived with European men and educated them in the ways of India.)

Massey, whose father is from India, tells the tale of a young girl, the lone survivor of an ocean wave that decimates her home village, who moves to Calcutta, creates a new life under an assumed name and fights for her country's freedom as Colonial India chafes under imperial rule.

Published in the U.S. late last year by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, the book, which has garnered good reviews, is also being published in India with the title, "City of Palaces." Massey would like to see the sweeping story made into a movie and hopes India's thriving film industry will take notice.

Available on is a novella, "The Ayah's Tale," originally a tangent that she cut from "The Sleeping Dictionary."

As buzz builds about the new book, Massey is busy speaking at events such as the Govans Library's annual spring lecture, which was hosted by Friends of the Govans Library on March 29. Upcoming events include Five Deadly Dames, with Massey and mystery writers Marcia Talley, Elaine Viets, Hank Phillippi Ryan and Frances Brody, at the Ivy Bookshop in Mount Washington on May 5.

Massey has lived in Japan, and in the Twin Cities, where she has family and did much of the research for "The Sleeping Dictionary" at the University of Minnesota's Ames Library of South Asia.

She has visited India five times and hopes to return this summer. "It's part of who I am," she said, "just like those Midwestern years are part of me."

But she said, "I would absolutely call myself a Baltimorean."

She lives near the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arets degree in the Writing Seminars program in 1986 and where she met her husband, Anthony, a psychiatrist in Baltimore. She began her career as a features and fashion writer for the old Baltimore Evening Sun.

She is a mother, who ran out after an interview to pick up her daughter, Pia, a sophomore, after school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Her son, Neel is in sixth grade at The Greenmount School in Remington and plays in the Roland Park Baseball Leagues. She said adopting them in 1999 and 2002 led to "my expansion of writing territory to India."

Massey said she writes mostly during the school day, because, "Once they get home, there's a lot going on."

The other family member is Charlie, a beagle, who came with them from Minnesota.

"He prefers the weather here," she said.


Massey was born in England to a mother from Germany and a father who emigrated from India. Her mother manages a group of eye doctors in the Twin Cities. Her father retired as a professor of geology at the University of Minnesota.

Her parents divorced amicably and both have remarried natives of India.

Massey grew up in St. Paul, came east to Goucher College in Towson for two years, and then transferred to Hopkins.

Her first job was at the Baltimore Evening Sun for five years. Then, the couple moved to Japan, where Tony Massey was stationed as part of a three-year commitment to the U.S. Navy, which helped pay for medical school.

It was there that Sujata Massey began researching the Rei Shimura novels.

They returned to Baltimore in 1993. Her first book, "The Salaryman's Wife," was published by HarperCollinscq, and Tony did his residency at Shepherd Pratt. "We were both launching (careers) at the same time, which was kind of exciting," she said.

"The Salaryman's Wife" won an Agatha Award for best first mystery novel.

They stayed in Baltimore for 13 years. Massey got involved in Advocates for Reform at the Top, a group of north Baltimore parents who were concerned about the city school system's then-$58 million budget deficit and the possibility that the state might take over city schools. She hosted a meeting at her house on Roland Avenue in 2004, when Pia was a kindergartner at Roland Park Elementary.

In 2006, Tony Massey's career took him to Minneapolis, where the family lived a quiet life two blocks from a lake and the children grew up around both sets of grandparents. Sujata Massey went "underground" and began researching a book about India, which she had wanted to write about for a long time.

Having family from India in the area was a big help.

"There was a whole lot of Indian culture going on around us," she said.

In 2012, they returned to Baltimore.

Full of invitations

In contrast to her underground years in Minnesota, Baltimore is a busier life, "full of invitations," Massey said. She was guest speaker at the Govans Library, where a crowd of about 50 people turned out for a talk called "The Adventures of International Fiction" — many with copies of "The Sleeping Dictionary" for her to sign.

Ivy Bookshop sold her new book at a table in the corner of the auditorium.

"I love her books," said Govans Library Branch Manager Poonam Mukherjee, who invited Massey to speak.

"I think her most recent book is wonderful," said Friends of Govans Library President Peggy Egan, of Homeland. "It's thoroughly researched. I did not know anything about the history of India."

Egan may have gotten a little ahead of herself in introducing Massey, when she said "The Sleeping Dictionary" is the first of a trilogy of books Massey is planning, called "The Daughters of Bengal."

"Maybe," said Massey, who is simultaneously working on the next Rei Shimura novel and another novel about India.

With Pia at her side to provide technical support and "play muse," Massey showed slides of her time in Japan and visits to India (in one photo, she rides a rickshaw).

She also said, "I only write and set stories in places where I do not live."

At home the day before, talking about life in Roland Park and Baltimore, Massey hinted that someday, that might change.

"I think I will possibly write something set here at some point," she said. "I'm so in love with these houses — and so many of my ideas come from places."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad