A Literary Power Couple: 2017 National Book Festival

>>From the Library of
Congress in Washington DC.>>Petra Mayer: Hi everyone. Good morning. Thanks for coming out
on this disgusting, rainy day to spend
some time with us. Thank you to the co-chairman of
the festival, David Rubenstein, and all the sponsors who
make this event possible. If I can just ask everyone
to make sure that your phones are
silenced or turned off. And though I’m sure you all have
questions, just please hold them to the end of the conversation. We’ll have a little time
for you guys to step up. Also, some of you have
been in here before. You probably know the drill,
but this is being recorded for posterity so, you know make
sure your questions are good ones. [laughter] I’m going
to try to anyways. [laughing]>>No pressure.>>No. No pressure. [laughing] I’m really excited to be
here this morning with Hari Kunzru and Katie Kitamura to talk — about life and marriage
in a two writer household, not the least because I’m an
old bachelor with three cats. So this is going to be
really educational for me, probably more so than for you guys. Katie Kitamura’s latest
book is “A Separation.” It’s an unnerving story about a
woman — we never learn her name. She goes to Greece to search for her estranged husband
who’s disappeared there. I read it and I was kind of
creeped out for days afterwards. [laughing] And I also realized
as I read it that I will never, ever examine my life
as deeply or as — with such precision and thoughtfulness [laughing]
as your narrator does. So it was like sort
of a goal situation. [laughter] Hari Kunzru’s
latest book is “White Tears.” That’s another one that’s going to
stick with you for days afterward. It’s the story of two college kids,
one rich, one poor, both white, both obsessed with black
music and authenticity. And their lives are
kind of turned inside out after they discover this old — what may or may not be a lost
blues record from the 30s that may or may not be something
more than just a record. So both of those are really
great reads that will stick with you for a long time. Thank you guys so much
for being here today.>>Hari Kunzru: Thank
you for inviting us.>>My pleasure. So I guess we’re just going
to start with the basics. What is life like with two writers
and two small children in the house? I mean what’s an average
day for you?>>Well it involves a lot
of coffee early in the game.>>I saw that quote in the Guardian
about espresso drinks being all that stand between you
and creative disaster.>>And I wasn’t kidding. It really is true. I mean we get woken up
earlier than we would like and in a less dignified
fashion than we would like. And yeah — and the first few
hours of the normal business of the preschool run and
getting everybody settled and then finally we both
have a coffee in our hands and the ability to
escape to our desks. It means that –>>Katie Kitamura: We stagger up
to our desks and sit down and –>>[laughing] I know I’m
an editor, not a writer, but I also rely intensely on
coffee to get through the morning. What did you not expect about
being a two writer household? What came as a complete
surprise to you?>>I mean I think — I mean
often we’re asked about, you know whether it’s competitive
being in the two writer kind of — especially because our books
came out within three weeks of each other earlier this year. And I just don’t — I mean
I don’t know about you — I just don’t feel that
[laughing] at all. I mean I think we’re
very different writers. I mean I don’t know. I feel like we’re both trying to move the project
forward in some way. So that’s absolutely not an
element of the relationship at all. I mean I think there’s –>>I mean when we first got
together we used to live in a little studio apartment and,
you know there was a room with a bed and two desks facing
in opposite directions and we both wrote novels in there. And I think we discovered
that if we could do that and essentially be together
more or less 24 hours a day and were still happy to
be in each other’s company that was an indication that we should probably
get married and reproduce. [laughter] So –>>I mean I think it’s –>>We went ahead and did that
and then added more obstacles in the shape of, you
know little people. [laughter]>>But I think it’s also
the fact that the practice of writing is actually much more
flexible than you think it is. I think — you know I
don’t know about you, but when I started writing
I would have my rituals and I thought I needed to write
first thing in the morning kind of between seven and 11 when
I was fresh and all that goes out the window certainly
once you have children, but even before then I think, you
know when you’re living together and you’re trying to
make work together. And I think the kind of
capaciousness of a relationship and of a fiction writing practice
is — took me by surprise certainly.>>That is something actually — you
anticipated a question I was going to ask because I mean there
have been whole books dedicated to writers’ routines. I mean people are almost
religious about it. You know I get up, I
have a cup of hot water, I have to write 5,000 words
before two p.m. and then — you know I’m pulling that
off the top of my head, but it seems like that’s kind of incompatible [laughing]
with a family life.>>It really is. I mean I used to be — I mean I
call it throat clearing really. I mean it used to take
me kind of hours of — the sort of equivalent
of aligning up my pencils on the desk before I could actually
feel psychologically capable of sitting down, but now I know that I have really a relatively
short time and I have to be able to kind of access the zone
very quickly and efficiently. I mean I have little
techniques to get myself into my headspace kind of quickly. I mean I — you don’t like to
write with music on but I do. So I wear noise cancelling
headphones and make my own sort of space in — amidst the
chaos of the household and I now am quite good at sort of
stripping away the outside world within 10 minutes or
so and getting into it.>>It’s almost like deadline
pressure except you have no idea when the deadline is
actually going to be. [laughing]>>It’s an existential deadline. [laughter]>>Yes.>>I mean it’s –>>[laughing] Oh God! I mean that actually sounds like it might be productive
for a writing practice. [laughing]>>I mean it was very good for me
in a way to have some constraints when I was single and
affectively could spend all day — I mean pretending that I
was in touch with the muse. You know I could waste
huge amounts of time and I find these days I do
much more in much less time because of that pressure.>>I mean I think it was taking me
maybe two years or a little bit more to write a book before we had
children and then after my — our son was born I
think I wrote my — this book, “A Separation”
in about nine months. It’s just — there was some
element that you just really had to sit down and get to it. And I mean it’s — I mean when you’re promoting a book
you’re often asked to kind of describe your working space and our working space is
complete chaos for both of us.>>Yeah, it’s not the sort
of aesthetic situation where the magazine is going to
do the sort of lifestyle spread. [laughter]>>No.>>About it. Unless there’s a magazine that wants
kind of, you know kid underwear and half eaten sandwiches.>>Yeah, that’s — but you
kind of write out of that chaos and that has started to
feel quite good in some way.>>[laughing] How does living
together as writers kind of — do you play off each other? Do you edit each other? Are you bouncing ideas
of each other? Or is it very like, “I have my lane. You have your lane.”>>Stay out of my lane. [laughing] No.>>We’ve found what’s
really — I mean because — Katie’s my best reader and
my first reader and I — in a way you don’t want
to waste that read. You don’t want to be kind of
tugging on the sleeve every day and saying, “Is it good?”>>Yeah.>>”Am I good?”>>Mom! Mom!>>And you won’t — and that
I think would definitely — you know if we were both
requiring a certain sort of emotional reassurance
from each other that might get things
too tangled up. So what we do is we don’t
really speak about our projects for a very long period of time. I mean you go off to your room. I go off to my room. And we do our thing. We meet for lunch. We talk about other things. We — you know we — maybe in
general terms about our work but I haven’t read a word of the
novel that you’ve been working on for the last year
and a half and same. So I mean we’ll get to the point
of full drafts and hand it over and actually then — I mean I
think people get very tangled up with what they need from their
partner and what I need from Katie when I give her a draft of my writing is an extremely
hard edged, professional read. I don’t need her to
tell me I’m okay. [laughter]>>I mean I think it’s also
kind of an exciting moment because we do live and
work in the same space and I mean we do spend
24 hours a day together.>>A lot of time together.>>We spend a lot of time together
and so it’s quite exciting in a way to kind of appreciate your partner for this incredible book
they’ve written rather than –>>Yeah, that’s their
privacy to be reminded that there is this thing going on
that you had no idea about at all.>>You still feel like; I
don’t actually know everything that is inside his brain and
it’s nice to see your partner not in the register of “I love him
because he changes the diapers and he unloaded the dishwasher,” but it’s like this
incredible imagination and this is what has been going on. So it’s actually — it’s
nice we’re together.>>It’s kind of romantic.>>[laughing] It’s even romantic.>>You know but we spend
all this time together but there is still
some kind of amount of privacy between us I think.>>It’s interesting that you say
that because one of the things — I think we talked about it a little
over email and I definitely noticed when reading your books
— is that there are — there’s a little bit of overlap
I think in some of the themes. They’re both very haunted books that
— you mentioned that and I thought when you said it I
thought, “Of course. Yes. These are both books that
are very concerned with — .” [thumping sound] Oh, sorry. I just — I gestured [laughing] so
excitedly I banged my microphone. These are both books
that are concerned with various kinds of haunting. Was that like a — was that
something you thought about or noticed or did it just bleed
back and forth between you?>>I think we — yeah, I mean we
have meshed into a kind of shared –>>Set of concerns?>>Yeah, I think that’s true and
our tastes in what we like to read and what we’re thinking about
kind of overlap considerably.>>I mean I would — I think I would
have said our books were completely different, but then as they’ve
been out in the world — I mean I think we did
a reading together once and we both read things
that were about — specifically about local
performance and specifically about something uncanny in this
book, performance, [agreeing noise] and specifically even
about grief in some level. And so then you realize
that actually we are sitting around thinking about the same
things, but they have come out in totally different ways because no two people will write
even the exact same story the same way.>>I mean stylistically
we’re very different writers.>>Yeah.>>That’s true. When I was reading the books
that was sort of the first thing that came to me was that
just stylistically they were so different. Their approach to sort of — to
dialogue and to character was so different, but then as I kind of
dug deeper there were these like — there were these little parallels. And you mentioned the performance,
the music, the vocal music. I mean there’s — both books
sort of turn a little bit on an almost supernatural
vocal performance. [pondering noise] The
other thing that I — I guess actually we just — I’ve just been talking about
how your voices are different, but I wonder, you know with me,
with my friends that I’ve known for 30 years, we all start
talking alike eventually. [laughing] I mean there are shared
intonations, shared speech rhythms, shared in-jokes that just become
embedded so deeply into the way that you talk that you don’t
even know that you’re doing it. Is that something that you
have to watch out for now that you’re living in
such close quarters?>>I mean there’s an issue because
you’re English and I’m American, but now we both each
spent about a decade in the other person’s country.>>Yeah, we have a terrible
vocabulary problem going on and neither of us is now secure on what is English usage
and what is US usage. And –>>Like we can’t trust each
other to catch it, you know?>>And we both — we’re both the
children of immigrants as well. I mean my — yeah, I mean — so there’s a kind of
deracinated English that’s going on in our household and
also we’re reading — increasingly we’re reading more and
more fiction in translation as well. So there’s that going on also. I mean I like that and
I’m interested in that because that seems to be something
that’s happening to English anyway. I mean English is a world
language and I saw some statistic that somehow — that
something like 60 percent of English conversations are
between two non-native speakers now, which is — I mean
what does that mean for the way that language functions? So I mean that — I’d like to think
that our kind of head scratching about whether the word — what
was the one I had the other day? I wanted somebody to be hit over
the head and I used the word cosh, which turns out should
be a super British. And I thought that was —
[laughter] and yeah but that — maybe it is productive that
that sort of thing is going on.>>I mean one thing that’s
interesting is it does — you have to stop and
wonder about your usage. You become aware of it and that
is surely useful for a writer. It’s never like just language
that falls into your head. That’s — you have
to stop and think, “Does that even make
sense for this character?” And so maybe that small degree of
separation is useful for your –>>[musing sound] I mean you once
told me that you sort of aspired to write as if it had been
translated rather than not.>>Yeah, I think that’s true, that
slight level of remove is useful. But I mean it’s something
that I’ve always thought about in certainly kind
of intellectual terms. And then you realize it comes
back to biography and it is because I am the children
of two Japanese immigrants. English was a second
language in my household and then whenever my parents
spoke English it was very much a second language. So there was always
this slight question about the correctness of usage.>>When — that’s interesting
because the main character in “A Separation” is a translator.>>Yeah.>>Was that something you were
consciously thinking about or did it just kind
of arise naturally?>>I think it — I think that
idea of being not entirely at home in your language was something that
I was definitely thinking about. I mean I was — we often — you know
the phrase, “lost in translation” is so familiar to us, but I
was actually more interested in this question of what
is added in translation because it is effectively like
another person is now writing or voicing a book with you. So you know when a
book is translated into another language you have
the author and the translator and they kind of make that book
together in the second language. And I think for this book in
particular, which is so much about being haunted by another
presence, that felt useful to me.>>I — there was a quote I think
I saw in an interview with you where you talked about a
translator saying, “I look forward to writing your book
in French,” was it?>>Yes.>>Yeah, I think that was great.>>Yeah. [laughing]>>The idea of creating the
book again in another language. I wonder if sort of — and
this just occurred to me — that writing is a way of
making a home in language, if you were feeling kind of
between several cultures.>>I think absolutely.>>Yeah.>>I mean both of us have such
a sort of deep love for books and we do make our world out of
those books no matter where we are. I mean we have as a couple moved
around to various places and –>>I mean I think you —
because one of the things I love about Hari’s work and his brain
in general is that he does — he can seize hold of
a situation very, very quickly and write about it. And so I think you actually,
from living in America, from living in Berlin,
you’ve used those experiences and you’ve actually written in the
voices of people who would be — who are native to those
places in a way. And I don’t know if that’s
part of a — like finding –>>It’s foolish really isn’t it? [laughter] It’s like
kind of — but I — no I do stumble into the middle of
things and it’s too irresistible to not — it’s irresistible to
write about them and so I do end up writing in voices that
are very distant from my own and about experiences that
are quite distant from my own. I mean I also like
research more than you do. I’m much more of a kind
of, you know internet — you know drift kind of did.>>Yes. No, I mean when you — for
instance the kind of nuts and bolts of his — I often farm
out research to Hari. So I’ll say, [laughter]
“I need — .”>>Yeah, she can kind of drop
it casually at the lunch table. “I wonder what that would be about.” And I will then be,
“Oh, yeah, yeah.” [laughter] And so I’ll end up kind
of doing an hour and coming back. [laughing]>>It’s amazing. I’m kind of upstairs
working on my book and then an hour later I get an
email with links to everything. [laughter] So it’s
really, really useful.>>She knows how to
manipulate my compulsions. [laughter]>>That’s a strong
marriage right there. And actually use — that
distaste for research pops up in Christopher who’s
the missing husband because his wife is
pretty salty about the fact that he’s disappeared
to Greece researching.>>Yes. I mean because I
think books are so funny because for me they operate
much more like kind of dreams in that it’s not that x is y, it’s more that the author
is all the characters. And so that element of Christopher
is definitely my self-loathing about my — you know I can be
researching a book and not — never go to the library
for years I would say. [laughter] So yeah.>>Research is so fun. That’s the most fun part. [laughter] Then like when you –>>I’ll be sending you emails with my questions [laughing]
you have to watch out.>>No. I don’t want
to step on your turf. [laughing] But no, once
you’ve done research again –>>Enough to go around. [laughter]>>And you’re sitting there. You’ve done research and you’re
sitting there with the blank page and then that’s the
terrifying part for me. Like I — [scared noises]>>I just find things kind
of pop up out of research. Just — it’s always — if you actually look at
something it’s always stranger than the version that you
imagined if you kind of try and make it up out of whole cloth. You go for the easiest
version of it. And the world is always more
peculiar than we dream of. And I have it — I mean what I get
out of research isn’t so much kind of lists of facts and dates,
but tone and odd details that to me are then
really useful as a sort of prosthetic for m imagination. I mean I can be very at sea if I
haven’t got something to hold on to, but even if it’s a quite weird
little inconsequential thing I can then spin something out of that.>>There were a lot of times
when I was reading “White Tears,” especially in the earlier passages
talking about Carter and Seth, the two college kids at their school
in upstate New York, when I thought, “I probably knew those guys.” [laughing] They rang so
true to me even though, you know I was a little bit
before them and in Western Mass but not upstate New York, but
that’s an — they were archetypal. Like I thought that –>>Yeah, they turn up in
British versions too believe me. [laughing]>>I actually — I feel like —
I mean I had this written down and I was sort of wondering whether
or not it was a corny question, but we’ve kind of gotten
there already, you know the old [laughter] trope of
writing what you know and how much of the author is in the books,
especially with “A Separation,” which is [laughing]
about a troubled marriage and a woman who’s very distant from
her emotions and from her marriage and from her husband
who’s now missing.>>The cattish English husband. [laughter]>>He does seem kind
of — [laughter]>>Non-fiction writer. [laughter]>>I would call him a prat.>>All right, that’s
the fig leaf is it? [laughing]>>Yeah. [laughing] So how much of your own marriage leaches
through into your work? I mean –>>I think I’m going to
give that one to you there. [laughter]>>I mean –>>Misses missing husband. [laughing]>>My German editor when I had —
when I saw him he said that he — he kind of said, you know whatever
about your book and then he said, “Yeah, you know it really is the
dream of every person that you wake up and your partner
has disappeared.” And I thought, [laughter] that’s
a very German thing to say. I mean I think –>>That’s a little more revealing
than he intended I think. [laughter]>>I mean I think it goes back
to what I was saying earlier is that I mean Hari is a
brilliant writer of writing with the present moment and I think
I’m a writer who takes much longer to process what is
happening to me and around me. And I mean it’s —
I wrote the book — I don’t know what I
thought it was about. Maybe I thought it
was about marriage. And then I realized after I’d
written it that it was a book about grief and that it was a book
about my father in a lot of ways who died now eight years ago. And some part of me is still kind of
worrying over that and I mean then when I started thinking about it I
realized the germ of the book was in a visit I made to Euro De Menos,
[phonetic] which is a village in the book in Greece in
the Southern Peloponnese. And I went there after my dad —
my dad had been sick with cancer for quite a long time and
it was there that I accepted that he was going to
die and quite soon. And so that tone of grief colored
everything about that landscape and the book came out
of that landscape. So when you look at the book there’s
actually not that much I don’t think about marriage, but there
is a great deal about grief and about not being
able to process grief. So I think the distance
that the narrator has from her emotions is really a
kind of trauma and a kind of — you know it’s like what —
because we have children, if they fall over you’re not
worried if they’re crying because you know they’re
kind of okay. It’s really that kind of moment
when they’re completely still and no emotion is there that you
worry about if they’re okay or not. And so in a way the quandary for my
narrator is that she can never get to the point of actually
expressing her grief. So –>>Yeah, it’s — I’m used to
reading things that resolve neatly at the end so it was very [laughing]
interesting for me to get to the end of “A Separation” and go, [thinking
noise] “This is closer to real life than I’m comfortable with.” [laughter]>>I mean that’s the kind of thing
that is so funny about a novel is that you know we pretend that these
narratives have a beginning, middle, and end and they don’t
and they’re ongoing. And I mean even in my experience of
writing it, it was that something that had happened to me almost a
decade ago continues to operate on my psyche in some way
and it keeps coming back and it keeps coming back. And I think that was something I
wanted to try to get in the book, which is that these
narratives are open-ended. They do carry on. They return in unexpected ways. I mean that’s also a kind of theme
in your — in “White Tears” as well.>>A kind of open-endedness of –>>Yeah, the whole [inaudible]
in these things we try to pretend they’ve been
resolved and this is all done, but they don’t resolve like that. They come back. [musing noise]>>I mean ghost stories — I
mean the book — the last — this book is kind of a — it’s a
ghost story among other things. And they are always about
something that has been — people have attempted to prematurely
bury, prematurely suppress, and it has come back up unbidden
to haunt the present day. And I mean that for me was a way
that I could speak about race and history and the kind of troubled
history of that, especially here. It seemed like a useful
frame for that.>>That one — my expertise
is kind of in genre fiction and I always sort of — the
thing that I came up with is that people read genre fiction because real life doesn’t
have narrative. [laughing] You know genre fiction
tends to have a story arc, a quest, it may not have a happy ending
but it generally has an ending. And so it was very interesting
for me to sort of break away from that [laughing] and be in
a much more uncertain space.>>Well I like — I mean
I’m interested in that — the structures, that genre fiction
does give to our experiences. You say there’s something comforting
about a story that resolves, there’s something comforting
about things that will proceed along
a familiar path. And I suppose the — you know
what interests me is the way that we sometimes try and frame our
lives like that and that they are — and that genre does offer
kind of clues to things that are quite profound about
human experience, but there’s — there is never that neat resolution and things bleed away
from those structures. And so I mean I’m quite interested
in the point where genre sort of breaks down and I think you can
still have the fun and the pleasure of things that are shaped like
stories, but not necessarily need to tie them up in neat little bows.>>I want to sort of go back
to the idea of both books to a certain extent being
about grief and haunting and these sort of similar ideas. Do you ever come up with an idea
while you’re writing and think, “Oh, my husband could do this better”? Or, “My wife could do this better.” [laughing] Is there kind of —
do you know each other’s — ?>>Yeah I mean we know — we also — we do collaborate on
doing some screen writing and so that’s the space
in which we can actually, you know full-bloodedly kind
of share our proclivities.>>[laughing] Proclivities;
that’s such a good word.>>And I mean — I’m trying
to think of there was — I mean if I could give a
straight answer to that question. I mean there must be
situations that — I mean I know there’s material
that I think of as yours and a tone that I think of as yours.>>I mean I feel like the novels are
so personal that it — I don’t — I mean maybe in the future, but –>>But I mean you can
only write like yourself. It’s like I mean because I admire
Katie’s work I have inevitably been influenced to try to steer some
of my tone towards something that feels more like hers and
it comes out sounding like me. And — [laughter] which
is — maybe that’s good. [laughter]>>Now that I think about that it
was a really editorial question because half of my job is
thinking, “Okay, I have this writer and this book would be a great
book for them to review.” [laughing] You know?>>I mean it was — I was — we wrote something together for a
publication called “Triple Canopy” and it was an idea that I’d had
and I kept trying to get Hari to write it because it felt like
something he would do really well and it was a kind of — I mean I
guess it’s a kind of satirical piece about the privatization of
language and the future. And that — I think I ended
up writing the bulk of it because I was commissioned
to do it the performance, but then we collaborated on it.>>Well then Katie doesn’t
like to — I mean I — Yeah, you didn’t want to perform
your piece so I stood on a stage and performed her piece and then
took questions in the character and I inevitably sort of
added material and then that was transcribed
and we wrote that up. And so by the end of
it there was a –>>It was very mixed together.>>It was very hard to say — yeah.>>That sounds almost like that
experience itself could be fodder for some kind of collaborative
[laughing] writing.>>It was quite a good
form actually I thought. It was –>>It was.>>Yeah, it was useful.>>One thing that I always
wonder about with writers who have children is — and sometimes I feel bad
for writers’ kids honestly, [laughing] naming no names. But they sometimes end up in their
parents’ fiction, whether they want to be there or not and I know
that you have two small children. How are you thinking about that?>>It hasn’t really
come up at the moment. I mean my main experience is that
there are things that I wrote about before I was a father
that I wouldn’t write about now. I mean I wrote a book about a
family whose little boy disappears and I could not do that now. I just couldn’t live inside that.>>That was “Gods Without Men”?>>Yes. And I wouldn’t be
able to write that book now because I think I would find it
just too troubling to have to be in that space all the time. I mean there’s actually
a lot of TV shows about missing children
that I can’t watch now. But in terms of sort of violating
their privacy in the future; I won’t do it intentionally. [laughter] I pledge that.>>[laughing] Intentionally. You’re on tape now. I’m just saying.>>Yeah I know. I’m prepared to [laughing]
sign my name to that. But I’m always slightly
suspicious of writers who assert their writerly
privilege in order to trash their families’ lives. You know I think it takes a great
amount of ego about the value of your own work to do that
in an unselfconscious way. And I mean the situation hasn’t
arisen, but I mean I feel that I would want to
respect their rights I mean to not be anatomized before they’re
able to make their own personalities and their own lives and their
own ways of defining themselves. I don’t know. Would you write about the kids. Is that what thinking?>>[laughing] No, because I mean — like I said, because I had
this incredible delay and I end up writing about things
10 years later. I just can’t even imagine
writing about them at all. I mean I don’t think I’ve written
a character who has children. Is that right? [laughter] I don’t know
why I’m asking you. Sorry! [laughing]>>Well, you should ask me
because I’ve been cramming in your books all week but
I can’t — I don’t think so. [laughing]>>I don’t think I have. So I don’t know what
that would look like. I don’t know what that
would look like.>>Yeah, I mean we’re far from that. I mean we haven’t even invaded
each other’s privacy properly yet. [laughter]>>I think we should —
we’ll exhaust each other.>>Work on that? Right. I just — maybe I’m
projecting because I feel like if I was a writer I would
not be able to resist a well of material living in
my own house, you know? [laughing]>>But I think –>>It’s funny. It doesn’t feel like
material does it?>>It doesn’t.>>It just doesn’t and I would —
I mean I think — and it’s also — I think it’s interesting how
material ends up in your work. I mean I think one — there’s
a kind of element in my book where the central character doesn’t
really know what her role is. She’s separated from her husband
but they’re not officially separated so she’s neither wife nor ex-wife. And I think part of that came out
because I had just become a mother and I was trying to figure out
what that meant and what that meant for my own identity, but that’s
how it turns up in the book. It’s not a kind of mother
who is stressed out about — you know it comes out
for me in lots of –>>It’s that sort of
transposition that’s the thing. I mean I think if —
you know if you — I mean we’re obviously always
taking from our real lives and it — all the time but you transpose — you don’t use the furniture
in a way. You use something about the tone. You use something — some
sort of emotional structure that you’re in or you’ve discovered. And it — and that way you can
completely mine all your friends and family and acquaintances
[laughter] all the time without actually doing the
thing that people find troubling and offensive, which
is being sort of penned to the board like specimens.>>Although we did have
— a friend of ours has — her father is a remarkable
character and both of us have always felt he
would be a remarkable character and we’ve both been tempted
but have not done it. And then we found out that
another writer is doing — [laughter] is currently –>>Is shadowing him and — yeah. It’s extraordinary.>>I always think like I would
be sort of honored if one of my writer friends put me
in a book, but that’s just because a friend of mine got
written into a “Doctor Who” novel as a villain and I’ve always
been really jealous about that. [laughing]>>That is something
to be jealous of.>>Speaking of British culture. So I wanted to ask just one more
sort of general question about being in a — you described — there’s
a line in a “Jezebel” interview where you described marriage as
“an insane, deranged, wager.”>>Yes.>>Is that [laughing]
marriage in general? Marriage as two writers? I mean what — ? Elaborate on that.>>Yeah, sure. I mean I think it’s
— I think it is — I mean it’s partially in
reference to something that Alan Badire [phonetic]
wrote, this French philosopher. He’d written this book about
how increasingly love is being metricated. So you have online dating, matching
profiles, and all the risk is kind of being drained away from love.>>It’s turned into shopping.>>And it’s turned into shopping. And in fact love should feel
like a tremendous leap of faith and there’s no reason
to go into a marriage if you think you’re just going
to coast along to the end. And I think that’s true. And I think I’m a romantic
in that sense that there has to be the sense that you’re doing –>>That’s the meaning
of marriage isn’t it? You stand up and you take this risk. You say, “I’m going to
try and love you forever.” And that’s — how can you say that? You can’t say that but the very fact
that you’re going to try is this — yeah, is this leap of — a
leap of faith and that sort of gives it meaning and that’s
what gives it value as a ritual, as a pledge, and it makes it
different from this kind of — yeah, quasi shopping
like dating culture. The — we all have participated in.>>Yeah, so I think that was what
I probably meant when I said that.>>[laughing] So risk — it’s
almost like writing a book and launching it into the world. [laughter] We — I think if — I’m being informed that we
have about 10 minutes left. So it might be time to have some
questions from the audience. I can’t see you out there
because the lights are so bright, but we have two microphones
here on either side. So if anybody has questions
and they want to step up here. Don’t be afraid. We don’t bite. [laughter] I mean, I
don’t know, I don’t. [laughter]>>They’re just leaving. [laughter]>>Oh, hi Meadowlake. [phonetic] [laughing]>>[laughing] Petra. I’m interested, since Petra
brought up your children, you are both from immigrant
families. You’re — Hari I know
you’re British/Asian, now you live in America
— Japanese American. What is the culture that you — how do you bring up your
children in that milieu? And how does that affect the
language that they’ll use? I particularly think of
British-English because I’m from there too and my children
still give me a hard time about some of the words that I use. But it’s a very interesting
mix and I think as writers, obviously you think
about words all the time. I’m curious as to how you think
about the words your children — with such an interesting
background from both of you.>>We are — I mean we’ve — both
of us have had to kind of break from our parents’ first language. I mean I wasn’t brought
up speaking Hindi. My mom’s English and my dad’s Indian and they took the decision
not to speak Hindi to me. Or my father’s decision not to
speak Hindi to me and my brother in the home in order not to
sort of alienate my mother. And that means that
I don’t have that — I mean when I go to see my family in
India and they would naturally speak in a kind of — in a flowing in
and out of Hindi and English. They just skew towards English
when I need to be included and then skew away again. [laughter] And you — I
mean your brother is fluent in Japanese, your older brother. But you were born over here and –>>My brother’s fluent in Japanese. He was born in Japan. I was brought up in California
and it was a bilingual household until I was five and then
I went to kindergarten and my English was behind. And so my parents were advised to stop speaking Japanese
to me in the home. Which is now — you would
never say that to a family. So my Japanese is poor at best. And it’s something I think
I really, deeply regret. And when I look at our
children, who should maybe –>>Be trilingual.>>Should be [laughing]
trilingual but will be, you know very monolingual
unless we do something about it. So I think now as they’re
getting older I do kind of think.>>I mean what they do
have is a sense of culture as something multiple and something
that’s constructed within a family. I mean I think that’s something. I mean they have this —
the grandparents in London and there’s a family in North India,
there’s the family in California. There’s family in Japan. And so they know that — in a way — that we’ve taken this
decision to be together and to make our little family, which
is not shaped like other families. So I think they understand
that each — in that way — that each family does do that work. Because even if you’re all from
the same place and you don’t move around you are still making
a culture as a family unit. So I mean how that will
play out we don’t know, but I mean we have these
conversations about how to keep them in touch with aspects of
our cultures that we want to keep hold of, much the same
as all immigrants do have.>>Yeah, I’m interested in
ultimately how it’s going to affect the English that –>>You mean it’s –>>English? Yeah, I mean they have some –>>Our son’s definitely got a
funny little English accent going on in there in the middle of his –>>Yeah.>>Yeah. Which I can’t –>>Yeah, I think the influence
of school is so strong that once they’re really school
age I think it tends to fall away.>>Yeah, I mean that’s what we will
see that once he’s got a peer group in grade school then that
will presumably be his primary cultural influence.>>Thank you.>>Sure.>>Thank you. We have time for one more question if anybody wants to
step up to the mic. Anybody out there? [laughter] Gosh, you
guys are so quiet. Here comes somebody. Thank you. [laughing]>>Hi. Thank you. That was really helpful. I was wondering, you said that
there was a set of shared concerns that you have even though obviously
your work is really different aesthetically and tonally,
stylistically. And maybe you could talk about what
those set of shared concerns are.>>[laughter] What a question!>>Or not.>>What do we share?>>What else could you do
with this five minutes?>>I mean I think both of us have — for biographical reasons
that we’ve outlined here — we’ve got a sense of
not being in the center of the worlds that we occupy. I mean I have habitually
written narrators and characters who are somehow at an
angle to the situation that they find themselves in. And that perspective I think we both
share because we have moved around and we have had similar sets
of experiences in some way, even though — I mean our — the actual places we grew up
in have been more different.>>I mean I feel –>>And so that — yeah, go on.>>Yeah, I think maybe there’s
an interest in trying to work out how to play with narrative. So I mean I think as we
mentioned a little bit, my book kind of avoids this strong
finish I guess you might say. And then Hari — I mean this
book is — it almost is very, very propulsive and it’s
almost the opposite direction, but I think it’s the same concern
in a funny way about narrative drive and how you subvert
a narrative drive or you exploit a narrative drive. And certainly in “Gods without
Men” you were interested in doing something, which was —
which is a book that is really told in shards and it has many, many
narratives about how you play around with this idea of a linear
— of a kind of more conventional, linear narrative and you do
something different with it. So I think we also have —
they kind of express themselves in very different ways
but I think we both, for example would have an interest
in form and narrative maybe. Do we have any — we must have more. [laughter] We must have more.>>List of shared stuff.>>Yeah.>>Thank you.>>Thank you.>>Well I just have one
more quick question for — we have like two minutes left. Do you have any advice? Any pearls of wisdom for
people trying to make a go of a two writer household?>>I would say don’t mistake
the bedroom for the desk. [laughter]>>Sage advice.>>The — [laughing] and by that I
sort of mean you know you want love and support and you want to be
absolutely secure with your partner and you want a reader and a
critic to tell you the truth about your work and those are two
very separate sorts of things. And don’t — you know don’t
mistake somebody saying, “That’s not working”
for “I don’t love you.” [laughing]>>I think it’s really important
to be willing to continue to give your partner the space
to step away from the family to do the work, which sometimes
they do need to be able to do. And I think you have to
respect that and it’s hard. It’s hard to kind of say, “Yes, take
those two weeks to go away and work on your book and I’ll be here
[laughing] with the kids,” but — and we’ve both done
that for each other. But it’s really important
and it’s important — I mean you know what it takes to
write a book and you know when some of it — and you also have
to be sensitive sometimes — you know one or the other of us will
need that time more than the other and then you need to give
it to that person and trust that it’ll come full circle
and when you’re in that place and you’re writing that you
will also be given that time. I mean I think it’s dangerous to
fall into a kind of score keeping of hours, of who has
more time to work. But just to kind of — you
know we’re all trying to get to the same place, which
is to finish our books. So –>>Well, thank you
both very, very much.>>Thank you. [applause]>>And thank you! [ Applause ]>>This has been a presentation
of the Library of Congress. Visit us at loc.gov.

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