The ProsenPeople

Meet Sami Rohr Prize Finalist…Dalia Sofer

Monday, February 23, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Our fifth, and final, installment of this year’s “Words from our Finalists”…Dalia Sofer

Dalia…meet our Readers
Readers…meet Dalia

What are some of the most challenging things about writing fiction?

Ensuring that the world you have created is engaging and cohesive, that all the narrative threads you have introduced early on are carried until the end, and that multiple layers are woven through the story without drawing attention to themselves. All of this should appear seamless to the reader.

What or who has been your inspiration for writing fiction?

I’m not sure I can pinpoint a specific inspiration—for me writing is a release, a device through which I digest thoughts and emotions. The final product—the book—is a vessel that holds all this mishmash for me.

I find myself consistently drawn to ambiguity–in behavior, in relationships, in memory, in history, in governments, even in promises. I am also fascinated by the idea of the wheel of fortune—that life is favorable one instant and seemingly disastrous the next. I find much of my inspiration in these grey areas.

Who is your intended audience?

The marine iguanas in the Galapagos Islands.

Do you think your work speaks predominantly to your generation? Future generations? Or, older generations?

I think (and hope) that it speaks to all generations. My novel is very much about loss, and everyone can relate to that on some level, regardless of age. Imprisonment is its most obvious and extreme manifestation—the man who had everything loses everything, literally overnight. But the loss is far greater than that: it’s the disappearance of a whole nation as it once was, the annihilation of a way of life. I’ve often thought of this novel as a kind of elegy to what once was.

W. G. Sebald once said, “the artistic self engages personally in […] a reconstruction, pledging itself to building a memorial.” The idea of the writer as builder of a memorial, however imperfect, struck a resonant chord with me.

Who is the reader over your shoulder?

My very discriminating cat Leo.

Are you working on anything new right now?

I am working on my second novel, about an elderly man in a remote village in Southwestern France.

What are you reading now?

I tend to read several books at once. Currently I am reading Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days, and (revisiting) Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Organizing for Dummies.

When did you decide to be a writer? Where were you?

The first time I felt jolted out of my isolation after arriving in America was while reading Edith Wharton’s Ethan Fromein eighth grade and identifying—despite the vast geographical and chronological gaps separating us—with the reticent but kindhearted protagonist, trapped in a loveless marriage in the bitter cold of a New England town. In Ethan Frome I had for the first time encountered a protagonist whose passivity I recognized all too well, and ironically, it was in this reticent man that I saw a world opening up to me—a world where all that is left unsaid in real life can finally be said—a world where fictive characters become the reflections of the tangled emotions of humans—the world of novels.

What is the mountaintop for you — how do you define success?

Knowing that I have connected with readers both emotionally and intellectually, and occasionally challenged them.

How do you write — what is your private modus operandi? What talismans, rituals, props do you use to assist you?

I carry a mandrake root in my pocket at all times. I play the pungi with a white turban around my head to charm my pet snake out of his basket. I wear a silk robe bought from Shanghai, drink absinthe and read Baudelaire into all hours of the night.

What do you want readers to get out of your book?

That’s not for me to say. But I’m always eager to hear what they did get out of the book.

2009 Sami Rohr Prize Fiction Finalists Announced!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

The 2009 Sami Rohr Prize Fiction finalists have just been announced!

Congratulations to:

Elisa Albert for The Book of Dahlia (Free Press)

Sana Krasikov for One More Year (Spiegel & Grau)

Anne Landsman for The Rowing Lesson (Soho Press)

Dalia Sofer for The Septembers of Shiraz (Ecco)

Anya Ulinich for Petropolis (Viking Penguin)

Coming soon…words from our finalists…

Move Over Europe

Friday, November 21, 2008 | Permalink

Posted by Naomi Firestone-Teeter

Over the past several years, the Jewish Book Council has received an influx of titles concerning the plight of Jews outside the boundaries of Europe. No longer are our shelves dominated by the European Jewish experience, as we see an increasing number of books that convey stories of the Jewish experience in Iran, Iraq, India, and Egypt, among other places. As the Jewish communities of these regions shrink, it’s important that we encourage the publication of these gems of history that capture the vibrancy and unique qualities these cultures hold. With Winter at our door, what better time to stay inside and expand your understanding of the Jewish experience.

A few suggestions to you get you going…

My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for his Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, Ariel Sabar

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World, Lucette Lagnado

The Septembers of Shiraz, Dalia Sofer

The Last Jews of Kerala: The Two Thousand Year History of India’s Forgotten Jewish Community, Edna Fernandes

Dropped From Heaven, Sophie Judah

The Girl from Foreign: A Search for Shipwrecked Ancestors, Forgotten Histories, and a Sense of Home, Sadia Shepard

Farewell, Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad, Naim Kattan

Have another recommendation? Please comment and let us know!