Idra Novey is the author of the new novel Ways to Disappear. She also has written the works of poetry The Next Country and Exit, Civilian, and has translated several books from Spanish and Portuguese. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Slate and Guernica, and she teaches in Princeton University's creative writing program. She lives in Brooklyn.
Q: You work as a translator, as does your character Emma. How would you describe the process of translation, and how is it similar to or different from creating your original work?
A: To translate you have to be willing to give yourself over to the imagination of another writer. It is the deepest, most intimate kind of reading. But it is also a kind of writing, as you have to recreate that writer's vision in your own language.
It's a really fascinating in-between place to inhabit as a reader and writer. It requires a deep kind of empathy, too, for someone else's experience of the world, which I think can enrich one's own writing immensely.
Q: The book is told from multiple points of view. Why did you decide to write it that way, and did you plan out the structure of the book before you started writing?
A: I knew from the start that I wanted the perspectives to shift and shine light on each other like the bright pieces inside a kaleidoscope.
I was especially interested in the way an American and a Brazilian would view the same situation and drew on my own experiences living as an American in Brazil. I had no idea how American I was until I lived abroad.
Q: How important is setting in your work, and could this novel have taken place somewhere other than Brazil?
A: This book is very much a response to the particular joys and chaos of Brazil. I translated three different Brazilian authors before writing it and getting to know them and their work and Brazil itself was what led me to write it. It is my love letter to Brazil and the lush images in its literature.
Q: How did you choose the book’s title, and what does it signify for you?
A: I started the book before having children and chose the title with travel and translation in mind, how they both create opportunities to disappear, but over the many drafts of the book I had two children and began to write about the way disappearing plays a role in parenting, too.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I like to have a number of things simmering on the stove at the same time. I'm a restless person and I find I am more inventive and daring if I'm sticking my spoon in several projects and stirring them around one after the other.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Ah, I don't know--maybe that this book is about a translator but also about mothers and daughters and the impossibility of ever knowing one's parents in more than partial, shifting ways? That was a central tension driving this book, too.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb