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.

Orig­i­nal­ly from Lan­cast­er, Penn­syl­va­nia, Nao­mi is the CEO of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil. She grad­u­at­ed from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty with degrees in Eng­lish and Art His­to­ry and, in addi­tion, stud­ied at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Pri­or to her role as exec­u­tive direc­tor, Nao­mi served as the found­ing edi­tor of the JBC web­site and blog and man­ag­ing edi­tor of Jew­ish Book World. In addi­tion, she has over­seen JBC’s dig­i­tal ini­tia­tives, and also devel­oped the JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series and Unpack­ing the Book: Jew­ish Writ­ers in Conversation.