a conversation with Dorit Rabinyan      


Bold Type: You published your first novel, Persian Brides, at the age of 21 and now novel number two, Strand of a Thousand Pearls, has just come out, so what were the big differences for you between book one and book two.

DR: The difference between a book written at 21 and 26 is 5 more years of living. Of adventures and chances taken. Especially since the 20s are years of reshaping and reforming yourself constantly. So if you look at it from this perspective, these years don't really fit with book writing, because you're growing up and published books tend not to. Books can be written later. I bet they'd be better too.

BT: What is your writing process? Do you plan out the stories that you write, or do you just create characters and let them speak for themselves? Are you working on your next book?

DR: Each book takes you on a different journey. sometimes you follow a plot and sometime a character. But in all three cases I have to learn from, including the third novel I'm working on these days, I've been following a lost piece of myself: A memory I needed to figure out or an experience I felt I didn't live through truthfully or, in Strand of a Thousand Pearls, a conversation I should have had and never did.

BT: Your book is filled with wonderfully unique women characters, the four daughters, the mother, grandmother (etc.). Would you say that you are similar to any of the characters? Which character do you identify the most with?

DR: I haven't yet written a character who resembles me. I've written about my mother, my grandmother, my aunts—actually all the female options I could come up with until I'll have the courage of peering straight inside of me. These women are reflections, are possible versions of who I might be. I think the need to write down their stories came from a need to tell myself who I could be if I had been in their shoes, or who I am in spite and because of what they did. I use them as a mirror. And they use the books as their own mirrors, so it's good for all of us.

BT: Where do you find inspiration for your work? From your past? From the present? Or from your imagined future?

DR: I think books are written by people who stubbornly won't let go: of a moment to be forgotten, of a beauty or an injustice, but mainly of the their own past. We all have our childhood inside of us, we all miss a paradise in some sense: authors are constantly reliving it, retracing it as a profession. I think the present is to be experienced. Only when it turns into a past—after a second, an hour, a lifetime—can it become an inspiration. Not necessarily for the same person: in my case, I was born 61 years after the event that happened to my grandmother inspired me to write my first novel, 21 years later as it happened.

BT: As a young woman living in Israel today, what are your personal views in terms of marriage, family (having children), and career? In the United States there has been a belief (whether it's true or not) that women can have it all-a great career and a fulfilling family life-though lately this viewpoint is being called into question as women are finding that it's not so easy to find it "all" and also to maintain it.

DR: The American utopian image of a successful career woman who manages to be also a beautiful, happily married supermom, has given us, girls all over the world, a very hard time. And now, after we've been struggling for years to figure out how you do it, you're questioning it? Sometimes I think feminism, like communism, is one of the great ideas of the 20th century, very promising on paper but problematic when it comes to applying to humankind. To its greed and its patterns of hierarchy, to its laziness and its fear of freedom. But in spite of my criticism of those two great dreams innocently seeking equality, I am most grateful. And can't imagine my existence, my identity, my future without it.

BT: In many ways you have lived out a very popular dream (becoming a successful and critically acclaimed novelist at a young age), do you have any advice for those who wish to write novels-young and old? Can you pass along something you have learned from your experiences of writing and publishing two books?

DR: That storytelling is not something that you dream. You don't loosen your inner muscles, you contract them. You don't close your eyes, you open them wide. And you don't lay back but sit at least 8 hours a day to make it into a reality. As literature consumers we actually don't really want to know that the fantasy which we read fluently, breathlessly, was a struggle to write, somebody's working day. Or as one sweet naive reader once asked me—unknowingly phrasing a deep non verbal wish I have in those tough, frustrating, blocked days—"So how does it go? You're writing it as if you're reading it somewhere? like someone's dictating it and you just type it down?".

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    Photo credit: Valdi Kahana