I was saddened to find out, somewhat belatedly, that Shusha Guppy passed away last month at the age of 72. Although possibly better known these days for being the mother of Darius Guppy, Shusha was a highly accomplished woman—she was among other things a singer and writer, as well as London editor of the literary journal The Paris Review for twenty years.
I actually discovered that Guppy had died while idly self-googling. Her first name is almost identical to mine, and this is also the reason that I originally heard about her. In the late 1980s, she published a memoir of her Persian childhood, The Blindfold Horse. The Guardian printed an interview with “Susha Guppy” and my father pointed it out to me. I was so excited to find someone else who shared my name, which is a rare occurrence, that I cut out the article to keep (I think I still have it somewhere). Then the next day the newspaper ran a correction, explaining her name was really “Shusha.” Well, that’s the Grauniad for you.
In the years since, I’ve had occasion to be reminded of Guppy. One of Prospect‘s subscribers once mistook me for her and wrote to tell me how much he enjoyed my singing. Various members of the literati have asked me if my name is Iranian, which I attribute to her influence as most other people ask if it’s Japanese, because it’s only one letter away from sushi. (In fact, it’s a regional variant of the more popular Indian girl’s name Usha.) Ironically, I’ve now learned from the obituaries that Guppy’s original name was Shamsi—she adoped “Shusha” after moving to France. The “Guppy” came from marrying the writer and explorer Nicholas Guppy, an ancestor of whom discovered the fish.
Last year, A Girl in Paris, Guppy’s memoir of her student days at the Sorbonne, was republished. Prospect was invited to the launch and I considered going, yet I didn’t—I couldn’t plausibly claim to be a fan, and I had no reason to believe the linguistic near-coincidence would have meant anything to her. Now, of course, I wish that I had gone and had the chance to meet her. Instead, I’m going to make do with the next best thing and order a copy of her first, prize-winning book The Blindfold Horse. I think it’s about time that I read it.