FAM­ILY MAT­TERS

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER - VOGUE HOMMES

VH De­scribe Ja­cob and Ju­lia … JSF The kind of lit­er­a­ture I en­joy as a reader, and the kind I want to pro­duce as an au­thor, eludes de­scrip­tion. Per­son­ally, I write very few de­scrip­tions. My most en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as a reader is to sym­pa­thise with the char­ac­ters. That the book you’re read­ing makes you feel ex­posed ; that you iden­tify with it. VH Is this an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal novel ? JSF It has some­thing to do with me as a per­son, but I can’t say it’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal in terms of what hap­pens. It’s the first book I’ve writ­ten where the peo­ple close to me have said, “It’s re­ally you ”. It has my sen­si­tiv­ity. I wrote my first two nov­els in the first per­son. This one is in the third per­son, and this third per­son’s sense of hu­mour and charisma are like mine. In the di­a­logues, for ex­am­ple. which I’ve tried to push to the point of ab­sur­dity. When I’m writ­ing, I al­ways try and push an idea as far as pos­si­ble.

VH Is it fair to say that the main theme of Here I Am is how hard it is to be there for the ones we love ? Fam­ily, for ex­am­ple ?

JSF Each char­ac­ter has to deal with that ques­tion, yes. But I wanted to con­sider the wider prob­lem of iden­tity, par­tic­u­larly when we have sev­eral go­ing on at the same time: can we be both a par­ent and a spouse ? Have sec­u­lar and re­li­gious val­ues ? Be mar­ried and re­main an in­di­vid­ual? Most of the time, it’s not a huge prob­lem, just slightly un­com­fort­able to ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­times, though, a cri­sis comes along and you have to make a choice. Say, “here I am ”. I wanted to build my book around th­ese var­i­ous forces which ul­ti­mately oblige Ju­lia and Ja­cob to ask whether they ought to stay to­gether or not.

VH They’re sur­rounded by tech­nol­ogy ( e – mail, texts, etc. ), ob­jects, ev­ery­day items … Is this also what dis­tances us from what re­ally mat­ters ?

JSF I wanted to show life in the twenty–first century. And, once again, the iden­tity crises we all ex­pe­ri­ence. The choices and, some­times, sac­ri­fices we have to make. I wanted to work on mul­ti­ple scales, from the small­est to the largest. What’s in­ci­den­tal and what’s im­por­tant in your life ? Peo­ple can find it in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to make the small­est choices. We see a pic­ture of a Syr­ian child dy­ing and there’s noth­ing we can do about it. At the same time, in our daily lives, we en­dure th­ese tiny hu­mil­i­a­tions and mi­cro–ag­gres­sions that we never men­tion, but which can de­stroy a mar­riage. VH Is it a satire of fam­ily life? JSF I think so, yes, but a lov­ing, em­pa­thetic satire. I wanted to bring about a tragedy in a very sub­tle way that would be al­most im­pos­si­ble to de­tect. An­other theme is to make lan­guage and words the things that en­able us to feel at home. Be­cause the other ques­tion go­ing through my mind is, what is “at home ”? Our body? Where we live? Or do we feel most at home in front of a screen ?

VH Do you still feel at home in Trump’s Amer­ica?

JSF I’m not sure how to an­swer that, as I still can’t be­lieve he’s ac­tu­ally in of­fice [ laughs ]! Maybe he’ll be im­peached? Given that I’ve been wrong from the start, I can’t an­swer that, ei­ther. The more in­ter­est­ing ques­tion is whether that would be such a good thing. Maybe his re­place­ment would be even worse.

“Peo­ple find it hard to make the small­est choices.”

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER

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