Excerpted from Bliss by Gabrielle Pina. Copyright © 2002 by Gabrielle Pina. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
A Conversation with the Gabrielle Pina, Author of Bliss
How did you get the idea for Bliss?
I was and am still intrigued with the idea of powerful women, women who are fearless, women who can almost bend steel with their minds. And I wondered how our grandmothers and great grandmothers survived so gracefully without battered women’s shelters, high powered divorce attorneys and weight loss programs. Also how one moment, one event can alter the course of your life.
What would have happened if you took a left instead of a right? What if everything you believed in was a lie? What if the person you thought you were didn’t exist? These questions haunted me and Bliss was born out my quest to answer them.
You open the book with the line “Sometimes a lie is the best thing.” What did you mean by that?
Well, what would have happened if Hattie Mae told Harlan she was pregnant? Would Bone have even survived without Hattie Mae? Some of the characters in Bliss felt their deceptions were necessary for survival. One lie affected the lives of so many people.
Why did you pick the violin?
I thought the violin was a romantic instrument, an instrument quite difficult to master. Also I think as a society we’re accustomed to seeing women of color singing and playing the piano, not necessarily mastering an instrument at that level.
How much of you is in your characters?
I can’t say exactly. I think a little bit of me is sprinkled around here and there. I love food, hence the consistent macaroni and cheese references throughout the novel.
What writers have influenced you?
Toni Morrison, Anita Diamant, Octavia Butler, and Alice Walker. I could go on and on as there are so many.
What do you want the reader to take away from your novel?
Feelings of hope, determination and perseverance. I want the reader to feel the pain, the struggle and the joy of the journey. I also want the reader to laugh. Laughter is good.
Are you working on anything else?
Yes, my second novel tentatively titled “Anything But a Simple Woman.” Imagine that.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
1. Pina opens Bliss with the line "Sometimes a lie is the best thing". What does she mean? In the end, was lying the best policy? Was there a time when lies no longer served to better Hattie or Claudine’s lives?
2. In her struggle to survive, Hattie's determination to succeed leaves no room for idleness or pleasure. When she finally escapes Georgia, she does not relinquish her steely resolve and the single-mindedness she developed there never really fades. Why can't she leave her past behind and start anew?
3. Claudine's life is never wholly her own. Hattie orchestrated many of the most important moments, and in some ways, lives her own life through Claudine's. Was Hattie using Claudine? Was she selfish?
4. In some ways, Hattie has saved and destroyed Claudine's life. How is this?
5. As much as Bliss is about love between mother and daughter, it is equally about the enduring power of hate. The hate Hattie feels for the governor motivates many of her actions. How important is hatred in creating Hattie's strength? In his own way, does the governor also hate Hattie?
6. Claudine's childhood was full of harsh words from those in and outside of her family. When Willy Earl shows his interest in her, Claudine is willing to forgive almost anything. How important is Willy Earl in saving Claudine? Would she have been better off without him?
7. Hattie never experienced a loving relationship and was unable to understand the value of Claudine and Francesco's love. Was their relationship appropriate? If Claudine did not give up Francesco would she have achieved the same success?
8. Claudine and Hattie re-invent themselves in Italy to leave their past behind. Do they succeed? Can you ever truly escape your past?
9. As governor, Harlan has the power to manipulate those around him, and this is what he loves about Hattie. Does he ever truly love her? Is it possible for him to ever understand her? Does he have any redeemable qualities?
10. Claudine's weight provides her with a sense of security -- a cushion between her and the rest of her world. How else does she survive her childhood? Could Hattie have imagined the level of emotional abuse Claudine would suffer as a child?
11. Bliss is a story of triumph over adversity; Claudine becomes a renowned violinist despite Hattie's virtual imprisonment by the governor and the economic hardships of her family. What was the price of this success? How many people are destroyed by her climb to the top?