Tatjana Soli is the author of the new novel The Last Good Paradise. She also has written the novels The Lotus Eaters and The Forgetting Tree. She lives in Southern California.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Last Good Paradise, and how did you choose its setting?
A: This book is different in tone and intention from my previous ones, but I still feel it is very much of a piece with them. I always ask myself, “What kind of book do I wish was on the bookshelf?” This time I wanted to look at the kinds of things that we only discuss late at night with a good friend, preferably after a few glasses of wine.
I was thinking of those times in your life when you have to give an accounting for yourself. Do we talk about our jobs, our income, the size of our house? Do we talk about our family? Our accomplishments? Many of my characters have the superficial markers of success, but they are questioning themselves. Are they happy? Or rather, are they satisfied with what they’ve contributed to the world?
I chose the setting because… yeah, I lust to run off for a vacation there right now. But the setting is a metaphor for the ultimate escape. For Ann, it’s a tropical island that is “unplugged.” For others it could be Las Vegas or a cabin on a lake. Essentially it’s the longing that matters.
Q: Escaping the past is a theme running through the book. How do your characters deal with their pasts and their new surroundings?
A: I love to travel, and part of that love comes from how it takes you out of your comfort zone. You land in a new place and often the first hours are disorienting… and so vivid. You are receptive in a way that is almost impossible in everyday life. The idea of escape was to gain that essential mental distance from our lives in order to truly see them, and that includes the choices we’ve made in the past.
Q: There are many stories about escaping to—or being shipwrecked on—a distant island. Do you have any favorites, and was this book at all influenced by them?
A: Robinson Crusoe is of course the granddaddy of the shipwreck story. I reread it recently, and I was struck that in today’s world it is almost impossible to achieve the kind of profound aloneness he experienced. Even if we managed the physical part, our minds are trained to be on a kind of nonstop twitter-feed now. Crusoe builds a little kingdom on his island, but as soon as Friday shows up, he reverts to the laws of the larger world. He does not try to create a utopia.
Loren creates a primitive experience for his guests, but in a totally fatuous way that includes gourmet food, alcohol, high-thread count sheets, and maid service. But does that necessarily invalidate the experience?
Q: Your characters include a chef, a lawyer, and a musician. How do their professions affect them, and did you prefer writing about some of these characters more than others?
A: I loved writing about all three professions for different reasons. I know many lawyers who don’t have a feeling of high job satisfaction. They feel they are not giving a good accounting of themselves in a big picture way. I could have substituted numerous other professions. The funny thing is that during readings, I’ve had numerous attorneys come up to me and say they found those parts where Ann is having a meltdown at her firm hilarious and truthful.
Living near Los Angeles, I do happen to know a number of professional musicians, and what I found interesting was the disparity between the actual experience of their professions and the fantasy we have of them. Writing about cooking was just pure fun. I’m a foodie.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I usually have a couple of projects in my head at any one time. I was planning on something totally different when I came across an interesting anecdote about the American West. It snowballed into a historical novel that I’m writing now. I’m too superstitious to say more.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Tatjana Soli, please click here.