Jon Weiner interviewed Peter Carey for Dissent Magazine.
The introduction and first exchange from the interview:
Peter Carey has won two Booker prizes: the first for Oscar and Lucinda, which was made into a movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett; the second for The True History of the Kelly Gang, which sold two-million copies worldwide. In 1990, he moved from Australia to New York and wrote My Life as a Fake and Theft. Now he has published his tenth novel, His Illegal Self, which tells the story of Che, the seven-year-old son of wanted SDS radicals. Dissent contributor Jon Wiener ("The Weatherman Temptation," Spring 2007) spoke with him in Los Angeles.Read the full Q & A.
Jon Wiener: In His Illegal Self, the year is 1972 and the characters are set in motion by the Weather Underground. I’m reluctant to talk about the plot because one of the pleasures of the book, especially at the beginning, is figuring out the plot—told mostly from the perspective of a seven-year-old boy. Could you explain what you want people to know about it?
Peter Carey: This is the number one issue for me at the moment. I spent two years building this book, which really depends on withholding information. It delivers a whole series of surprises and thrills for the reader, I hope, which was not easy to achieve. But we live in a culture where people confuse “story” and “art,” and where reviewers are called upon by their editors to report the story. So while they are praising this book, they are sort of destroying it—by giving away all these things.
You’ve given me this chance, and now I’m faced with the same problem they have. I can talk about the story at the beginning. You have this little boy, the child of two Harvard SDS radicals, both underground and wanted by the FBI. The grandmother has custody of the child—she’s a wealthy Park Avenue woman. She doesn’t tell him anything about his parents, and keeps him away from the TV and the news, but he has an informant—downstairs in apartment 5D, a 15-year-old private school radical. He tells the kid,“Your parents are great Americans.”