Saturday, April 26, 2008

Isabel Fonseca

Isabel Fonseca is the author of the nonfiction Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey, and a new novel, Attachment.

From a Q & A at the publisher's website:

Q. Your last book, Bury Me Standing, was an acclaimed nonfiction book about Gypsies. What made you want to delve into the world of fiction writing?

A. Like all writers, I write in order to explore and understand something that bothers me, or intrigues me, and like many writers, I think of my writing, whether it is fiction or non-fiction or journalism as one continuous, if continuously interrupted, investigation. I may be making a suit in nonfiction and an evening gown in fiction, and so naturally I will be cutting from a different cloth. But non-fiction involves most of the same writerly and imaginative skills as a novel, just as in fiction you also have to do justice to the truth of things. But of course you do have wonderful freedom in fiction, and more of the work is done while you sleep, by your subconscious. Importantly, whatever the form, I do think it has one voice - mine.

Q. ATTACHMENT takes us into the life of a health columnist, Jean Hubbard, enjoying a sabbatical on a remote tropical island with her husband Mark, when her life is suddenly thrown off kilter by the arrival of a love letter addressed to Mark. Where did the initial idea for ATTACHMENT come from?

A. The arrival of a letter – the violent precipitant: something that comes at us from the outside and forces us to look within – is maybe not that unusual a fictional device. What is unusual is that Jean, the main character, chooses to answer the letter, as if she were her husband. Trying to understand him, and the affair he is apparently having, she puts herself ‘in his shoes.’ And takes a walk down a sometimes treacherous path. In this novel, I wanted to explore the idea of personal identity, which of course evolves over time at different speeds and in unexpected directions, particularly within the context of marriage. Identity: we hear a lot about its theft. Can it be borrowed? Tried on? Can we be cross-dressers of identity – this least negotiable yet surprisingly hazy department of the self? How well do you really know the people you love? I can’t tell you how this question first arrived in my mind, but I had a nagging need to answer it . . . or to try to. How far does empathy take us, even with the best faith in the world? In the course of a long marriage, where exactly does the self end and the other begin? Probably like any person in a longlived relationship, I was curious to explore the murky penumbra of the shared self, and to think about what it means to each participant: how similar is our experience of common events? How does the difference shape each of us?

What, in trying to learn about the person closest to you, might you discover about yourself? Because along with personal identity come questions of personal responsibility, which I also think a lot about in this book. Who is responsible for my happiness? Jean, looking for something else, comes face to face with this conundrum. Thinking about how unlikely it is that we – any of us – should develop with anything like synchronicity, the question of difference is increasingly pressing, even if love itself is not in question.

And with difference, the notion of trust – which is not a passive thing. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion – which I saw again recently. I was surprised to find it echoed so closely both the atmosphere and themes of my novel.
Read the entire Q & A.

--Marshal Zeringue