When I was living in Cambodia from 2005 to 2009, the realization came to me that the story I wanted to tell was larger than me, than my own life. With Banyan, I wanted to pay homage to our humanity—that part of us that not only survives but triumphs. I saw this everywhere in Cambodia. I still see it every time I return. Despite living in the shadow of genocide, people there possess a lightness of spirit that’s absolutely inspiring.
“When I am writing about a particular murderer I really am entering into his mind: feeling his emotions, feeling his needs, feeling his violence, feeling his unhappiness. I think that, with all the characters, when I am writing about that character, I am that character and I believe that character for as long as I am writing that character.”
I don’t like when precious things slip through people’s fingers—especially things that seem defenseless or undercelebrated, like old newspapers, but also unheralded people who may have said sensible things at a certain time in history, but who were completely drowned out by other people. Or minor poets whose lives were instructive.
I have a bad memory, except for the moment or times that I remember well. It wasn’t really a choice; it’s the only way I can write. If I tried to use a longer narrative I would bore myself sick with myself. I am also not enamored of chronology. This happened and then this, and then this, is just plain boring. But one vivid memory and another really punctuate a life, or mine, anyway. The interstitial stuff, like what were my jobs, are uninteresting. Unless, of course, they are.
Every serious writer is implicitly or explicitly asking that question. What is it that I’m writing about? What does it have to do with the seemingly autonomous evolution of increasingly less propitious circumstances to make change? And the answer to that is the central and most compelling question, it seems to me, for people who write novels which incorporate serious politics and political thinking into them.
I had to learn a lot about writing and about life to make The Third Son the book that it is now. I also had to learn a lot about Taiwanese history. Twenty-five years ago there was almost no information available about 228 (February 28th Massacres) and the White Terror.
by Evelyn Somers
What compels me is the resilience of human beings, period. As I’ve said before, all the most lasting fiction is about one thing: how we go on. Some writers tackle this in the context of war or poverty or tyranny; I tackle it through the intimate world of the family. We are all born into one, and most of us do our damnedest to form one. And, again, a certain innate voyeurism makes me want to “know everything” about the messiness of making families work—or the heartbreak and the struggle when they don’t.