Excerpted from The Interpreter by Suzanne Glass. Copyright © 2003 by Suzanne Glass. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, 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 Suzanne Glass
Question: How much has Dominique's childhood affected her own "voice"?
Answer: I tried to show that even as a little girl, Dominique was never able to develop her own voice. Mediating between her parents arguments, her individuality was suppressed. In a physical sense, there was an occasion when her voice literally stuck in her throat as she sat at the dinner table with warring parents. It made sense to me that there would be a transition to a life of translating for others. Deep down, even as a little girl, she struggles for self-expression. Do you remember when she wrote that story at school about her Mummy and Daddy arguing all the way through their summer holidays? I think she was fighting to find her own voice even then, just as she fought to find it later in the book. Ultimately, the childhood of each and every one of us impacts our adult voice.
Q: What role does Paul play in Dominique's life?
A: In the early years, he and his family represented a haven of apparent normality for Dominique. In his house, nobody screamed or shouted and conflict was swept under the carpet. This is the antithesis of Dominique's life and a large part of what drew her to him. Although she is obviously unfulfilled both sexually and emotionally, I do think it represents a springboard for her move away from her past. I write at the end of Paul and Dominique's relationship that "the outgrowing of someone, the knowing that there is no oxygen left for the two of you to survive, still lends no meaning to the phrase he's wiped out of my life, gone forever. He is not wiped out of you, nor you of him, he's in your history, and in the lines around your eyes, part of what the next man loves." I hope I have shown that, no matter what follows, a first love leaves an indelible mark.
Q: Both Dominique and Nicholas love music. How is this woven thematically within the book? What are you trying to do with this device?
A: Music seems to have woven itself into my story to dramatize seminal moments in their relationship. When I wrote the chapter where Dominique and Nicholas are drawn to each other in the church, I was up all night listening to Swan Lake over and over again. By the early hours of the morning, Dominique and Nicholas's first meeting had somehow written itself to the music. The depths of Mozart's clarinet concerto provide background for the first lovemaking scene where Nicholas lies curved around Dominique like a question mark. And later too, after Dominique's trip to Europe, it is to the sound of Bach's musical offering that they are reunited. This is the point at which they offer themselves most fully to one another with the movement of the music. The Swan Lake theme comes full circle in the novel when Nicholas leaves the music on a tape for her via the guard at the Rodin Museum. Music is absolutely pivotal to their reunion.
Q: The idea of using two different first-person narrators is very unusual. Why did you choose this technique to tell this story?
A: Although Dominique's own voice is crucial to the telling of The Interpreter, I did not feel that she was self-aware enough to give a sufficiently true picture of herself. Nicholas's perspective on her development as a character and on their love story as a whole, is fundamental to the reader's understanding of their motivations. Also, the book is essentially about interpretation- Nicholas's of Dominique and Dominique's of Nicholas.
Q: Interpreting is a specialized skill that requires intense concentration. How has your career as a simultaneous interpreter fed into creating Dominique's world?
A: Apart from Dominique's discovery at a medical conference, her professional experience as an interpreter is similar to mine. The demands on one's concentration, the intellectual rigor, and the creative frustrations as an interpreter are experienced by Dominique as I experienced them myself. Although I never did find myself whispering in an old man's hairy ear! No one who had not practiced as a professional interpreter would ever really be able to get inside the head of the character sufficiently to create her from nothing. While writing The Interpreter I went back into the booth on many occasions to relive the experience of my protagonist.
Q: Why have you used flashbacks as a technique in this novel?
A: An insight into Dominique's and Nicholas's childhood is indispensable to understanding the way that they are as adults. Nicholas's stable, loving mother taught him to listen, so that he, in turn, was able to listen to Dominique. The angst and fears of Dominique's mother, a Holocaust survivor, had a deep impact on Dominique. For example, the scene where her mother is stuffing hard bread crusts into her mouth could only have been told by way of flashback. The lives of each of us can only be understood that way.
Q: Loyalty and devotion are important themes used in The Interpreter. How do you feel Dominique shows her loyalty to Mischa and Anna?
A: I think Dominique's loyalty to Mischa is paramount in the novel. Because of that loyalty she ultimately risks everything, including her career and her relationship with Nicholas. She risks her own emotional life to be true to Mischa. Even in death. In turn, by doing that she is loyal to Anna. I tried to highlight true friendship in The Interpreter by also showing its opposite in Tom's perfidious behavior toward Nicholas.
Q: How relevant was it that Mischa was suffering from AIDS?
A: I think Nicholas could have made a discovery about any disease from which Mischa was suffering. The issues of loyalty and friendship were far more relevant here than the specifics of the disease.
Q: Obviously Dominique is faced with a great dilemma about whether or not to divulge Nicholas's secrets, yet she seems to make her decision fast and with determination. Wouldn't you say this is out of character for someone who is as reticent as Dominique?
A: No. You have to allow for the evolution of Dominique's character. With Nicholas's help, Dominique's voice has been developing throughout the whole story. Even the blind interpreter notices a change in her tone and tells her she won't be interpreting other people's words for much longer. Although her decision to betray him in the radio station seems brutal and abrupt, it is perhaps the final burst of the caterpillar from the chrysalis. Dominique is not behaving out of character. Rather, she is being true to a new discovery within her own personality . . . a capacity for self-expression and loyalty to herself.
Q: Do you think that Dominique finding her voice forces Nicholas to suppress his?
A: I hadn't considered that before. On a superficial level, it might look that way. Nicholas does leave his high-powered job in New York. Yet, on a deeper level, perhaps he rediscovers his true voice. He never really had the right personality to deal with corporate politics. He seems content returning to work closely with patients in a Florentine Hospital. Perhaps therefore, despite herself, Dominique has, in a strange way, done Nicholas a favor by exposing his discovery. And, when she finds her true voice, she is able to use it to relate to Nicholas on an entirely different level.
Q: Did you know that the concept of a meeting between Nicholas and Dominique at the Rodin Museum is reminiscent of An Affair to Remember?
A: So many people have said that to me. I hadn't even seen the film before I wrote The Interpreter. Nor had I seen its modern day equivalent, Sleepless in Seattle. It just seemed to me to be very romantic that both Dominique and Nicholas would remember a throwaway suggestion to meet a year to the day of their breakup (should there be one) in the exquisite surroundings of the Rodin Museum. However, because of their different interpretations of the date of their breakup, they met there only in their minds.
Q: It seems as if Dominique and Nicholas are reunited at the end of the novel. Are they?
A: When I brought them together in Florence, I asked myself many questions: Would it really be possible for Nicholas to forgive Dominique's public betrayal of him? Would it be possible for Dominique to face Nicholas after what she'd done and explain her reasons? Ultimately, I struggled to answer these questions. What kept coming back into my mind was the proverb quoted earlier in the book. "Le couer connait des raison que la raison ne connait pas . . ." The heart knows reasons that reason never understands. In other words, they loved each other. They had both grown enough to face what had gone before.
Q: But do they stay together?
A: I think they try. I hinted at that when they brushed shoulders on the beach and particularly in the last line of the book. "In the light of morning they have found a new language."
Interview by Michelle Berman.