Some more notes on last night’s Nathan Englander/Ben Karlin conversation.
– Karlin was, for the most part, hilarious (which should be no surprise, since he’s one of the men behind The Onion, Jon Stewart, and Steven Colbert). He remarked that after reading Englander’s work he thought: “I’d be interested in hearing me to talk to him.”
– That being said, I’m not sure Englander was so thrilled with the conversation at the outset. Karlin started the conversation by asking about political parallels between Engalnder’s new novel and America post-9/11. Presumably, Karlin saw similarities between the way Argentina carried out it’s “dirty war” and America’s counter-terrorism/Iraq strategies.
Despite repeated prodding from Karlin, Englander wouldn’t budge. He started the book well before 9/11, he said. But he also seemed to resist Karlin’s extra-literary questions. I got the sense that, for Englander, fiction is about art and imagination and storytelling and writing. If it addresses, political issues by-the-by, then fine, but he as a writer isn’t going to make that a primary goal of his books.
– Englander worked on this novel for a long time. His story collection was published in 1999. He related that when he was a fellow at the NYPL’s Cullman Center, struggling to get the novel completed, he would visit a painting “Blind Milton Dictates Paradise Lost to his Daughter” and exhort himself: “He finished his book blind!”
– In reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Englander said: “I really believe there could be peace tomorrow. We just need new leadership. Everywhere.”