Literary Hub

Meet National Book Award Finalists Négar Djavadi and Tina Kover

The 2018 National Book Awards will be held on Wednesday, November 14 at the 69th National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. In preparation for the ceremony, and to celebrate all of the wonderful books and authors nominated for the awards this year, Literary Hub will be sharing short interviews with each of the finalists in all five categories: Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, Poetry, Nonfiction, and Fiction.

Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental, translated by Tina Kover (Europa Editions), the story of Iranian refugee Kimiâ Sadr, now living in France, and her family, is a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Translated Literature. Literary Hub asked Djavadi and Kover a few questions about their work, their lives, and the books they love.

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Négar Djavadi:

Disoriental brings together family history, “disorientalization”, and . . . post-punk. How did that third thing come into the mix? How does music and subculture influence your writing?

Really, the thing that links these three elements is land (or country, if you prefer). That land where the family has laid down roots for generations, where their history has become intertwined with History, with the events turning the country upside down. That land that they then leave for this other land which is so different, this West they have dreamed about and fantasized about, which now they have to become familiar with, and understand, and fit into. And, finally, music: the land you choose for yourself, which has its own history, its own codes and rules, its own inhabitants and encounters and charismatic figures, where it is possible to live, to love, to share, to dream of the future.

What do you always want to talk about in interviews but never get to?

Perhaps one of the things that scares me the most in this world: globalization. The fact that not only are we looking more and more alike, for example in our clothing and shoes, which are often the same brands, and our accessories, like our mobile telephones, and our food, etc., but that tendency is extending to our emotions, our feelings and desires, our culture. Truly, I wonder about the ability of human beings to accept difference. Mankind is already not very good at accepting and embracing difference, so in a world where everything looks like everything else, how can you accept that someone else isn’t like me, and yet they exist anyway?

What time of day do you write (and why)?

I start writing very early in the morning, at around 5:30 a.m. I’m not a big sleeper, so it isn’t a big deal to me, to get up so early and work. I always feel, because the world around me seems so still, that no one and nothing can come to bother me or interrupt me. I feel sort of cocooned within myself, calm and serene, completely open and free to write. On some mornings when I don’t get started that early, I feel like the day is no longer entirely my own, as if I’d missed the first step.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

I often go back to Albert Camus’s The Rebel, in which Camus analyzes the history of rebellion and its causes, as well as its metamorphosis from a movement of liberation to a force of oppression. But, generally speaking, I love opening any book by Virginia Woolf and just reading a few pages, like a sort of treat, but at the same time it’s a way of rediscovering the rhythm of her sentences, like listening to a piece of music.

Which non-literary piece of culture—film, tv show, painting, song—could you not imagine your life without?

I see “not being able to imagine my life without” something as being more about things that have changed my life. Things without which I wouldn’t have the life I have now. Unquestionably the music of The Clash, the films of John Cassavetes, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and the dance theater of Pina Bausch!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

To write is to rewrite.

Tina Kover:

Who do you most wish would read this book? (your boss, your childhood bully, Michelle Obama, etc.)

The short answer is that I wish everyone would read this book. It certainly goes without saying that people who feel frightened of or threatened by differences in skin color, religious belief, sexuality, etc. would, I hope, learn a great many lessons from Disoriental. But there are so many other gifts that Négar’s beautiful book has the power to give. If you’ve ever been alone and afraid in a place that feels foreign or hostile or strange, Disoriental will reassure you that you can build a life of peace, of fellowship and security. If you feel isolated because you’re different, confused about who you are, reading this book will help you to see that you are not alone. If you think you’re the only person in the world who struggles with complicated family relationships and wrestles with your memories and sometimes finds it hard to reconcile love and pain, Disoriental will remind you of the truth that we all experience these things, and whisper in your ear that they are simply universal symptoms of the human condition, in all its beauty and joy and triumph and sorrow.

What’s the best book you read this year?

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by the brilliant Michelle McNamara. I am a devourer of both crime fiction and true crime books; I’ve probably read thousands of them, and this one is something very special. It has an immediacy and an empathy about it that gets right in there under your skin and makes you ache for the victims and their families and itch for the murderer to be found, and justice to be done. It’s beautifully written, a page-turner that reads like fiction, in the best way. Besides that, it’s an absolutely incredible piece of detective work, and the additional circumstances of Michelle’s early, tragic passing and the recent real-life arrest of the killer give the book even more power and poignancy. It’s a must-read.

Who was the first person you told about making this list?

My husband, who is unfailingly supportive and encouraging and understanding. He’s an archaeologist and an academic, and he’s the smartest person I know. We spend a lot of rainy weekends (we do live in England, after all) together in the same room at home, reading and writing and drinking endless cups of tea, and those are some of our coziest, best times. I’m incredibly lucky.

Which book(s) do you return to again and again?

My all-time favorite author is Raymond Chandler, and I never, ever tire of his novels. I will forever wish that there were more of them. His gifts with language and imagery and the portrayal of a specific place and time—well, they’re unparalleled. There will never be anyone else like him.  Also J.K. Rowling, both the Harry Potter series and, especially, Cormoran Strike. She’s one extraordinary storyteller and the way she plots her narrative arcs so intricately just blows me away. Absolute favorite standalone novel—well, I have two. Vera Caspary’s Laura, and E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View. I could go on and on about them both. With Forster, especially, you find something new every time you read the novel, even after twenty or thirty times. It’s a masterpiece; a perfect book.

What has your experience translating this book been like?

I knew from the very first page—the first line, even—that Disoriental was something very special. I can only say that the Sadr family became my family as the translation process went on; I think you have that experience as a reader, as well. Darius and Sara, and Leïli and Mina and Kimiâ, become real people, and you fall in love with all of them. Above all, though, I felt—and feel—profoundly honoured to have been the one chosen to translate this book. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I’m so humbled and so grateful.

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