Steph Post: Ways to Disappear is part noir, part mystery and part literary manifesto. Interestingly, I also felt that there were overtones of magical realism, even though nothing exactly beyond the realm of belief happens. Do you think in some way you are influenced by authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Laura Esquivel? Or am I just getting this genre-vibe from the Latin America setting?
Idra Novey: The term "magical realism" refers to a specific era of 20th century Latin American writing. As a 21st century writer and a North American, I see Ways to Disappear as having more in common with the work of Denis Johnson, Karen Russell, George Saunders, Kelly Link and others who push the limits of realism in unpredictable ways. I wanted to keep things unpredictable in the novel, both for the reader and for myself as I was writing it. The slippery the realism became, the more I enjoyed writing the scene.
SP: The main character in Ways to Disappear, Emma, is a translator of a Brazilian author's works. You are also a literary translator yourself. How difficult is it to transfer an author's exact meaning from one language to another? Like Emma, do you ever find yourself tangled up in your author's stories?
IN: The process of getting tangled up in an author's story is part of the joy of translation. I only translate books I deeply admire and want to learn from as a writer. I seek them out with the intention of getting tangled up with the words and ideas of the author who created them. I find translation to be the deepest kind of reading and the reading that most influences the way I write.
SP: A sharp contrast is made between Emma's home of Pittsburgh, and her boring and predictable life there, and the bright, if wild, setting of Rio de Janeiro where most of the story takes place. Aside from the weather, and the men Emma loves in both places, what are the major differences between the places? How important was the sense of place and setting to the story?
IN: The novel is as much about Brazil as it is about the characters, who would be different people if they spoke another language or lived in another country. The particular kinds of violence that shape Brazilian life shape who the characters are and how they see a given situation in the same way that assault weapon murders in movie theaters and on college campuses in the US are shaping our lives here.
SP: Finally, in addition to writing and translating, you teach creative writing at Princeton University. What's the most essential piece of advice you've ever given a student about either writing or life?
IN: I encourage all my students to read beyond their century and their country. It's freeing to get out of one's particularly moment as a writer and remember how long literature has been around and how variously it has been approached in different languages and eras. I find my students grow the most as writers when they read more international writers rather than focusing solely on what's being written on campus or in any given workshop or even in the United States. It's exhilarating and emboldening to think of oneself as part of something far larger than that, as part of a global community of writers and readers.