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Farrah Penn: Hello Celeste! This is Farrah from BuzzFeed. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I am very happy to talk about this book. how are you?
Celeste Ng: I’m doing fine. thank you! How are you?
FP: I’m great! Don’t expect another Los Angeles heatwave here, but otherwise can’t complain!
CN: From today on, it’s starting to feel like fall is here in Boston.
FP: It looks really cool. I have enjoyed Boston a few times I have visited!
our longing heart I am happy to tell you about this novel. This book is classified as dystopian, so it is slightly different from the previous books, but at the same time the subject matter very closely matches the current climate. Best expressed in the author’s note. “The world of Birds and Margaret is not exactly our world, but neither is it ours.” What inspired you to write this story, and why now?
CN: After finishing the second novel, the first seeds of this story came to mind. little fire everywhere. At the time, it was a hat story set in a fairly realistic world about her creative mother and her son who doesn’t understand what he’s doing and maybe even sees him as his rival.
This was October 2016. So while the idea was still forming in my mind, the 2016 elections took place and with everything it emboldened: the rise of the far right, the rise of nationalism and xenophobia. … It all started to flow into the story. They felt it had something to do with the questions I asked about this family. I was immersed in a world that seemed to be becoming a dystopia, and I couldn’t write a book that pretended that there was no such element. So I started applying them to the world of books. In other words, we turn up the volume in our own world.
It was a way of navigating the world we belonged to, and a problem I struggled with in my life. For example: How do you raise a child in a world that feels like it’s falling apart? How do you maintain hope in all these situations?
FP: Oh, yes. Those are huge questions to explore. And it’s exciting to hear that the seeds of this idea date back to 2016. But when it comes to raising children in these turbulent times, it’s also a story that revolves around motherhood. better. Why was this important for you to explore?
CN: Partly personal. Because I am a mother, how to raise children and how to make the world the place they want to live! – There are so many on my mind.
But over the past few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be part of a community, what it means to be a responsible member of society, that is to say, what we owe each other. As a parent, I’m trying to get my kids to think about those kinds of issues, and make it clear what I believe in. So, I guess there are ways in which my own preconceived notions influence my novels!
FP: Yes, of course. It is very important to continue these ongoing conversations and discussions. And moving on to the next question, your book deals with two 12-year-old children. Sadie, a young girl whose parents have been evicted from her home against the PACT (American Culture and Traditions Preservation Act) and reestablished in her place is a fictional character in this story, but represents the real history of her becoming a refugee in the United States. after. What motivated you to explore this topic in particular?
CN: Most of us want to believe that we will live by our principles and uphold what we believe is right, but the calculation gets really complicated if our children are at risk. Even before the Trump era, I thought the worst thing I could imagine as a parent was to be separated from my child. Of course, there is a long history of this in the United States and elsewhere, from the segregation of slave families in the United States and elsewhere, to boarding schools for Native American children, to foster care systems.
And of course, when Trump’s policy of separating migrant families at the border began to get attention, for many this was not what happened in the past, it is still happening, and it could happen to anyone in power if they decide to do so. no see.
As the novel revolves around a mother and a son, the space between them, the son’s search for his mother again, PACT, and the policy of having children as political control from parents make perfect sense in this world.
FP: It’s a heartbreaking and frightening reality. As I read, I kept thinking, “Wow, this world seems so extreme”, but we will continue to draw parallels with our own world. And speaking of the similarities, has the increase in banned books over the past few years influenced the making of this story?
CN: It did! Book bans have been in the news a lot over the past few months, but as you mentioned, they have actually increased steadily over the past few years. So it wasn’t difficult at all to imagine it being expanded like it is now.
Moreover, I was following the progressive crackdown on democracy taking place in Hong Kong. My family is from Hong Kong, so I am personally interested. I have read stories of the Chinese-controlled Hong Kong government censoring pro-democracy books and banning pro-democracy protests and signs. Sometimes it’s almost a joke. At some point, protesters started holding blank papers because there was so little to put on the signs. Then the authorities banned blank paper.
So I was really shocked to see democracy collapsing in real time in many places around the world, and one of the usual first steps seemed to be limiting what people can say.
FP: This is once again a heartbreaking reality. our longing heart It also explores the unfortunately growing anti-Asian hatred and discrimination within the United States. What do you want people to get out of this book?
CN: I write because I have a question, not an answer. So I hope this book will make people aware of anti-Asian hatred and anti-Asian violence. If they didn’t already know about it — I especially want people to ask themselves what they would do about it. It’s easy to become a bystander or feel like someone else’s problems aren’t yours because they don’t directly affect you. However, it is true that these issues are social and affect all of us. For me, this book raises questions about how we connect with others, how we build communities, and how we maintain empathy for other humans. These are all questions that readers want to sit after turning the last page.
FP: You do a great job of showing empathy and connection in this book. stylishly, our longing heart It’s different from the previous one (eg no dialogue quotes). I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that decision.
CN: Oh, I’m so glad you asked this question! (In the word nerd hat.)
As I started writing novels, I instinctively realized that I was writing without quotation marks. I felt it was right, but I had to think about why. (Honestly, I hate the unquoted case.)
Most of the time, writing goes like this. It takes me a minute for my instincts to lead me, a rational brain to figure out if it’s right, and most importantly, why.
I wanted the novel to feel a bit folkloric and almost dreamlike. For Bird, this event feels a bit like stepping into a fairy tale, one of the stories his mother told him as a child. When we think of a story told aloud, it is often like a folktale that the voice of the narrator and the voice of a character are merged. There is ambiguity between the narrator and the words in the story and what the characters say. So, removing the quotes helps to have that effect on the reader. Instead of clear, formal and authoritative quotation marks, the dialogue and narration are shuffled slightly instead of neatly marked.
For similar reasons, I decided to use numbered chapters. The numbered chapters have a very formal feel, like clear markers reminding you that you are reading a book. Again, I wanted readers to feel the feel of the story, so one part naturally leads to the next, and there are no difficult divisions.
FP: All of this is very attractive. To me, your decisions are meaningful to this story. And it works!
CN: It’s always good when my instincts feel right, rather than mislead me!
I would like to add that the novel contains a lot of storytelling, especially oral storytelling.
FP: Of course! Storytelling is a key element of this book. The power of story. Is this one of the reasons you decided to tell this story through the lens of a 12-year-old character?
CN: I wanted to explore the world from a child’s perspective, but I was a child growing up. Because to me, this novel is partly about broadening your perspective on the world. in.
When you were young, your world was often very small, and it is often not until that age that you gradually realize it. “Ah, all this history I didn’t know. There are places I have never been to.” It’s like the frame around the picture of life is getting bigger and bigger. You begin to see your parents as people who have lived and always have lived their lives. And all of that changes your sense of who you are and your place in the world.
In a way, this novel is an adult story. As Bird leaves home and ventures into the world, his awareness of the world grows. As readers, we gradually come to realize what the world is like to be with him. So he felt like the right guide for us to follow, so to speak.
FP: Yes, it really is. From this conversation, and from the author’s notes, it is very clear that a lot of research has been done to write this novel. What was your research process and is it part of the process you enjoy?
CN: Actually, I’m scared of research. That is also why I write novels. But in this case, it felt really important to acknowledge that this happened and is actually happening. For example, I knew I wanted to write about my experiences of anti-Asian violence, but I didn’t want people to think this was new because of COVID and Trump. The United States has a long history of anti-Asian violence, dating back centuries. But many people don’t know anything about it. I didn’t want to add to that clear. I wanted to shed some light on it. Likewise, as mentioned above, there is a long history of family segregation, the removal of civil liberties from groups considered “others”, and racism against many groups. Although I was focusing on this one group (East Asian descent), I wanted to admit that many other groups had similar experiences.
The study in this book was partly an examination of history. I was reading about a time in the past when authoritarian governments came to power. But reading the news and heeding warning signs that something similar might be happening right now. Ever since I started writing novels in 2016, I’ve kept archives of news articles that seem to talk about what could happen in this world. At some point, I realized that I was bookmarking an article that brought to life what I had already written. If we don’t pay attention, history actually repeats itself.
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