In the latest book, Freedom of Speech, I journeyed along the boundaries of expression, and there I found numerous external threats.
That’s partly why I wrote the novel: how do you find that solitude and how to claim it? In some ways this city is very good for us—its rhythms dictate to you, it’s testing you, it causes you to adapt, improvise, stretch. But in other ways, especially if you’re interested in reading and writing, it can be a challenge and a little deranging.
So what I mean to say is that those whose minds are most in need of changing are precisely the ones that aren’t going to change their minds based on information, because bigotry is not a result of ignorance, as much as we like to think it is. Bigotry is a result of fear, and fear is impervious to data.
That’s why I hate it when people say, “I don’t have time for reading or writing.” Some people say, “I love writing, but I don’t have the time.” They don’t know that by reading and writing, you earn time. Because you’re living twice. So the more you read, the more time you have. You have layers of existences. When I don’t write or read, I can clearly sense that I am wasting a part of my day.
The ability to think about and imagine other people’s lives and minds, to enter into their heads, is the beginning of empathy, of the moral imagination and sense. That is exactly what fiction does, too. I wanted to have that not only as the invisible and silent dynamo powering my book, but also to make The Lives of Others wear the morality of the novel form on its sleeve.
But that’s all it took—the place had its hooks in me, and for many years after that second trip I had an intense longing to return, but I wanted to go only if I could stay for a year or more—I wanted to settle down, see old friends and make new friends, get into a rhythm, hang out at night with the old guys playing chess in the alley, watch the seasons change.
The guards were ordinary women and there were some nice ones, who of course were tougher on the criminals, so life in prison was not made easy through the cowed condition of keeping our heads down and following the rules. I and others broke a lot of non political rules such as smuggling in books, smuggling out letters, stealing pen and paper from the office and we were very good at it.
There is no business plan, except the belief that in the truly long run it will all even out if you persist. Here the word persist is not simply about romantic grit. It means you use all the means that are possible to make the “business of books” work. How? By juggling. Borrowing. Seeking like-minded people the world over and persuading them to your cause.
In writing previous books I was a little more anxious about the craft police and in this book I just really didn’t care. I wanted it to be in fragments and I wanted it to be lyrical and have a lot of emotion in it and I wanted to roam around between the scenes and have these digressive, meditative moments.
I’m drawn most to writing that reminds me of the dazzling wonders of the world. That said, of course, I feel cynicism about many things. It’s hard to reach 40 in a tehcno-capitalist society and not become cynical about humanity’s attitude toward resources, or about the way capitalism rewards the profit motive above all else.
One of the most complicated and controversial contemporary subjects has to be the Israel/Palestine question. Presenting the situation through the lens of a highly personal memoir, The Unlikely Settler, filmmaker and former BBC journalist Lipika Pelham may have illuminated the issue in a way that journalism can’t.
The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra tells the story of Juan Salvatierra, a man who became mute after a horse-riding accident and began painting a series of long rolls of canvas detailing life in his village along Argentina’s river border with Uruguay. After Salvatierra’s death, his sons return to make sense of the pictures their father left behind—and to find one roll of canvas that has mysteriously gone missing.
Grjasnowa writes in strong and declarative yet flippant sentences that tend to undermine the importance of the serious topics she tackles; All Russians Love Birch Trees revolves around the themes of trauma, genocide, religion, racism, xenophobia, anger, communication, the immigrant experience, and how all these are intrinsically tied together.
Stumbling upon Drew Tal’s art, we were immediately drawn to the faces he photographed; they were a complex array of sadness and strength, of beauty in captivity. In celebration of his newest exhibit, Worlds Apart, we wanted to find out a little more about the artist and his inspiration for these powerful photographs.
Based on the early life of Saint Hilda of Whitby, Hild takes place in seventh century Britain, when Rome’s “new god” was replacing the old gods of the pagans. With her seemingly supernatural talents of perception and prediction, the young noblewomen Hild becomes King Edwin’s seer, and thus one of the most powerful people on the island.