Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr talks about his new novel, "Cloud Cuckoo Land," and why he says his job as a writer is to reveal our interconnections as people, and as a planet.
Guest Host: Susan Page
The father of a 10-year-old boy named Lito is dying. Wanting to create memories for his son, he takes him on a road trip – just the two of them. Lito’s mother stays behind and is forced to confront her grief and unknown future without her husband. The latest novel by one of Latin America’s leading young writers shares the journey of three members of a close-knit family as they move toward inevitable loss. Their story is told in three distinct voices – those of a child, a woman and a terminally ill man. It’s a story of grief, courage and love.
- Andres Neuman Writer and poet, author of "Una Vez Argentina" (Once in Argentina); elected to the Bogota-39 list of outstanding young Latin American authors.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from TALKING TO OURSELVES: A Novel by Andrés Neuman, published in April 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2012 by Andrés Neuman. Translation copyright © 2014 by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. All rights reserved.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. Andres Neuman is one of Latin America's leading young writers. His 2012 novel, "Traveler of the Century" won Spain's two most prestigious literary awards. In his new book, he tells the story of a mother, a dying father and their 10-year-old son and how they are bound by love and transformed by loss.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThe novel is titled "Talking to Ourselves," and the author is with me in the studio. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. ANDRES NEUMANThank you very much, Susan.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation a little later in this hour. Our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. You can always send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter. So tell us just very briefly what this book is about.
NEUMANIt's about mainly two themes. The first one is a road trip between a father and a son that gradually focused on the character, which is usually neglected in literary tradition. It is the female character who could say, if we were talking about "The Odyssey," they always talk about Ulysses and not about Penelope. So it's about the one who is supposed to be waiting until, you know, the male hero comes back, which is a big gap in the traditional narrative.
NEUMANAnd secondly, it's a story about illness, but, again, focused on the very usually omitted character who is the caregiver, the one who gets ill with someone else's illness, that very complicated illness, which is implied in the fact of taking care of the loved one and not always being able to save his or her life. So we can say that the protagonist of this novel leaves in the -- it's like a peripheral character, the one who waits and the one who takes care -- but who suddenly undertakes and adventure of her own and that changes everything in the book.
PAGEThe tyranny of illness, you call it, at one point in the book.
NEUMANYeah, because no one talks about it. I mean, there are like three layers of silence about taking care of someone. It's a social silence because obviously countries, government, the estates don't help those people to live their lives as normal citizens while they are taking care of someone. It's very difficult to have a job and, you know, make all you're supposed to do while you're taking care of someone.
NEUMANThere are no public -- nothing of public assistance normally in almost every country. There's a second silence which is the family silence. You shouldn't have the right to complain if you're taking care of someone. Particularly if you're a women, you're supposed to be educated as a caregiver, which is terrible. If you're a man, you can learn how to do it, but you're not supposed to do that in the traditional frame.
NEUMANAnd a third silence and the most painful one is the caregiver, her or himself, who doesn't allow him or herself to complain, to tell the story of the suffering of taking care of someone. So Elena writes a diary in which she writes everything that caregivers have thought or felt and have not dared to say.
PAGEOne of the things that is so interesting about this book is the different voices, a 10-year-old child, we hear his interior voice, we hear the dying man, who is making a tape for his son to hear later on and Elena, who you describe as the central character. So I wonder if you would read us, please, a short passage that tell us about Elena's voice from her diary, perhaps read us a short passage from Elena in your book.
NEUMANYeah. As you said, there are three voices and there are not three points of view in terms of psychology or emotional situation, but as well, they have three ways of talking to our self. They have three ways of addressing to ourselves, the thought, the writing and the talk. So the little boy is thinking for himself. The father is recording, in a loud voice, letter for his son, who knows when, and she, Elena, who is writing a diary and that's why she says such terrible things, thinking that no one is listening, but hey, we are listening, but she doesn't know that.
NEUMANThis is the beginning of Elena's dairy. "They've just left. I hope my son comes back happy. I already know my husband won't be coming back. It was now or never, I agree, although Mario finds it hard. Men do, as a rule, to admit that sometimes it's never. Apart from the possibility of accidents, something that terrifies me even to write, what if he takes a turn for the worst? What if he can't carry on? What would Lito do then?
NEUMANMario refuses even to contemplate it. He seems convinced that his willpower outstrips his physical strength. As usual, I give in, not out of generosity, but rather guilt. The absurd thing is that now I regret it all the same. If Mario accepted the limits of his strength, we would have told all our friends the truth. He prefers as to be secretive. Discreet, he calls it. A patient's rights go unquestioned. No one talks about the rights of the caregiver.
NEUMANAnother person's illness makes us ill and so I am in that truck with them, even though I've stayed at home."
PAGEThat's Andres Neuman reading from his new book. It's called "Talking to Ourselves." So this idea of the untold story and secrets of the caregiver, this is something you had your own experience with in your family.
NEUMANYes. As almost everybody, unfortunately, I did have to take care of my parents. This is a like a damaged glab of silent people. It's like when you have children, suddenly everybody seems to have children, but you hadn't noticed until then. Well, when you take care of someone, you realize that everybody was doing so without expressing themselves too much. That's what I meant with silence because we sometimes feel guilty, you know, of surviving.
NEUMANIt's like the post-war syndrome. You feel grateful to keep on living, but at the same time, you feel guilty. You don't know if you have the right of enjoying life, so you, in a way, die with the other one. So it's a very complicated process of grief. And partially, I think that's because we don't talk a lot about it. But like I was saying, I did take care of my father first who was ill when he was very young and my mother was the caregiver.
NEUMANBut interestingly and painfully enough, a few years ago, after my father saved his life, my mom got ill and died so I saw how the caregiver was ill a few years later and I started to think about the weaknesses of the supposedly strong character in a family. Who gives care to the caregiver? That would be the question of the book. And that's why the book is dedicated to my father, literally the dedication reads, "to my father, who is also a mother."
PAGEYou said that writing this book was difficult for you, but also liberating.
PAGEHow do you mean, liberating?
NEUMANBecause all the conflicts, the uncomfortable things, the politically uncorrect thoughts and feelings that a caregiver can have through his or her life, all those things are very harshly written by Elena in a very straightforward way because she's supposed to be talking to herself. It's like a secret diary. So I wouldn't have dared to say all those things on my own behalf and that's why fiction is twice real.
NEUMANI get very annoyed when I hear sometimes these ideas about the fiction being like evasion, you can say in English, evasive...
PAGEEvasive, yes, right.
NEUMANEvasive exercise like these ideas about certain serious facts should be only addressed by non-fiction literature because they are too serious or urgent or whatever to, you know, to waste your time inventing a fiction. But to me, it's very much the opposite because when we do right, theoretically, on our own behalf, self censorship, self repression are very strongly working your speech.
NEUMANYou're too concerned about what your group will be thinking of you. But when you become someone else, you start to be more honest. So I would say that thanks to Elena, I was twice myself, talking about these conflicts. And I thought it was a very, you know, hard book to write and it was doubtful about the reception because Elena is, as a said, very politically uncorrect. But I was very surprised by how readers in different countries and languages have come to me and told me, I've always thought these kind of things about taking care of someone and I felt guilty because I thought I was the only one thinking this.
NEUMANSo that was a kind of catharsis and at the same time was very moving because there is this story of the father and the son so I could, let's say, adopt a little child who's Lito.
PAGEWe're talking about the new novel, "Talking to Ourselves," and the author is with me in the studio, Andres Neuman. He's the author if the award-winning novel "Traveler of the Century." He was elected to the Bogota 39 list of outstanding young Latin American authors. We'll have him describe what that is when we return after a short break. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page, of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Andres Neuman. He's an author and poet. Author of the award-winning novel, "Traveler of the Century." His new book his called, "Talking to Ourselves." And we invite your calls and comments. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Our phone lines are open.
PAGEYou can send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, we talked earlier in this hour about the three voices. And you discussed the voice of Elena. Tell us about the voice of the child, and perhaps read from your book something that tells us -- introduces us to Lito, the 10-year-old boy, who is also at the center of this story.
NEUMANIt was very funny and difficult to reproduce the voice of a child. At the beginning I thought that the most difficult thing to me, as a man, sadly, educated as a man, would be to become a woman. But since Elena is writing she has all the resources of a literary language. So she can do almost everything she wants in terms of syntax, flexes, et cetera.
NEUMANBut when someone is talking like the father, then you have to work differently with the breathe, with the rhythm, the pauses. You must even get lost sometimes on purpose in the middle of the sentence to convey the idea that someone is improvising his thoughts. And with the boy, the challenge, in literary terms, was being very simple in terms of language, but very sophisticated or exuberant in terms of imagination.
NEUMANBecause a child is like a 24-hours poet with not many words. So I had to be -- how do you say -- restless and unable to be quiet and doing funny associations and getting a bit surreal. But very restrictive vocabulary. And that was the most difficult to me. And the punctuation is very different, too. That's interesting. When one's punctuates a text, we are deciding about the other people's breath. So that's quite a responsibility.
NEUMANI hope no one chokes or, you know, has a serious problems because of my punctuation. I could read a short passage from Lito. To me it is a very funny one because his dad and him are in a truck, traveling through strange geographies which seem to be in some border of the Spanish-speaking countries. I was born in Latin America, in Argentina, but I grew up in Spain, in Europe. So I wished there were, you know, hidden roads that could join -- be the union between Latin America and Spain.
NEUMANThere are no, those highways, but I imagined there were those highways. So they are going across these strange roads. And they have to stop in the most terrible hotels, cheap hotels sometimes you only get those hotels and the father is so embarrassed to have his child in those places. So -- but the child is having a lot of fun. So he's not worried at all about this. And this is one of those moments in which the father has to stop to get the rest. And then this is what happens.
NEUMAN"We go upstairs to put our things in our room. The carpet smells of cigarettes. It has holes bigger than my feet. You could play mini golf on it. 'Lito,' Dad says, looking at the carpet, 'whatever you do, don't walk around barefoot. And when you go to bed, take the quilt off first. Do you hear?' I spot two white towels on a chair -- well, more or less white. I sniff them. Luckily, they smell of soap.
NEUMAN"I open the bathroom door. There are only wire hangers and a safe. What a weird room. Dad goes into the hallway. I hear him talking to himself. 'This is impossible,' he mutters. 'I told that bitch we wanted en suite.' The word bitch always makes me giggle. I like it when Dad says it. It doesn't sound the same when my friends and I say it. Dad comes back in, he picks up the towels.
NEUMAN"He says to me, 'At least there's hot water in the shower. Bring your clothes, son. And please do as I say. Don't touch anything. Okay?' In the bar, I gobble down two cheeseburgers, a plate of French fries with a ton of hot sauce and a scoop of ice cream covered in syrup. Dad only eats half his. He says he wants to lose some more weight. He takes an aspirin with a glass of water. Before he got the virus, he used to eat loads.
NEUMAN"And he loved going to restaurants. 'What,' I laughed, my mouth full of ice cream. 'So you didn't like your big, fat belly?' 'What about you, skinny chops,' he teases, 'Are you sure you don't need another hamburger?' I don't know what time it is. I don't feel like going to bed yet. Traveling is tiring, but it wakes me up. Dad leaves the table. He goes over to the bar, he pays, he's looking at me very hard.
NEUMAN"I think that as soon as I finish my ice cream we're going to have to go up to the room. Ugh. Dad is coming back. He walks up to me, he lifts my head in his hands, and he suggests we stay and have a drink -- a drink. Dad and me. In a bar. After dark. I can't believe it. It's totally awesome. I get up. I wipe the syrup off my mouth with my sleeve. I stand up very straight and we walk together to the bar. Dad orders a whiskey. I order a Fanta with lots and lots of ice."
PAGEThat's Andres Neuman reading from, "Talking to Ourselves," his new novel. And of course, Mario is taking…
NEUMANThis is 10-years-old Andres Neuman reading…
PAGEYes, that's right. As a 10-year-old Lito. And of course, this illustrates that Mario is succeeding in the big goal of taking this…
PAGE…road trip, which is to create some memories that his son will have after he, the father, dies.
NEUMANYeah, exactly. Because one of the most moving things in having a family or raising a child is that you work at the same time on the future and on the past of that creature. I mean you're building the memory of the child and at the same time trying to improve his or her future. So it's a canvas of science fiction phenomena to have a child in that way.
NEUMANSo Mario has not plenty of time to create memory for his son. In a way, we're always more or less in the same situation. I mean, anyone has plenty of time or enough time. So he's very anxious to create a long-lasting memory for his child. And he wants to be remembered traveling, not being ill. But at the same time, his strengths are not infinite. So the child sort of suspects something is wrong, but is afraid of asking questions. And that's another subject of the book, how we lie to the other, supposedly, for their own sake.
PAGEBecause his parents lie to him about everything that's going on. About his…
PAGE…father's illness, about how he dies when he finally dies. Does Lito understand that he's being lied to?
NEUMANI think he has the feeling that the truth is not being told. But as I said, he doesn't dare to ask questions. He will ask questions in the future. And the mother is very scared of that. Which makes more difficult to grieve sometimes, is precisely this kind of lies. Because in an illness process everyone lies to everyone, more or less. I mean the doctors don't tell exactly the truth to the patients and the family.
NEUMANOr maybe the family is told the truth, but the family then, you know, don't give the ill person the truth. At the same time, the ill one knows much more than everybody thinks, but pretends not to know in order not to load too much the caregivers. If there are children in the family, again, they don't get, you know, the whole truth. So it's like a narrative of lie, like a narrative of silence, that afterwards will make more difficult the process of the grief. And that's why I wrote this book, in order to analyze, explore these conflicts of lying out of love.
PAGELet's go to our callers. We've got Mike calling us from Louisville, Ky. Mike, thanks for giving us a call.
MIKE (CALLER0Oh, thanks very much for taking my call. So I'm just very interested to read the book, very eager having heard some of the conversation. And it struck a parallel. I wanted to ask if the author if he has read or is aware of a book that came out in the States last year to some notice, a collection of short stories by an author named George Saunders. It's called, "Tenth of December?"
NEUMANNo, I didn't. But I'm already writing it down.
(CALLER0Yeah, and I'll tell you why in mind of it. The title story is, in fact, "Tenth of December." And it's roughly about a terminally ill man who in his despair abandons essentially his home, his wife and his family, caretakers, in a sort of passive attempt really, just go out and end his life. And it's only when he encounters a child who is in some danger. And interestingly, actually another parallel perhaps to some of what you're discussing, is that you -- it's written in such a way that you get the perspectives of this terminally ill gentleman…
(CALLER0…and the child, himself, and also the wife, the caregiver. It's only when he actually encounters this child and is forced, in a way, to save him -- the child comes into some danger -- that he comes back to a full realization of how much he's been given in the context of this caregiving and feels remorseful for it. So just some really interesting parallels. The idea of focusing on the plight of the caregiver -- in this case the wife -- was very moving. And I -- obviously, you're -- it's something that you've done. So I'd just recommend it to you.
NEUMANOh, thanks a lot. And well, maybe something is going on with this and after a long times of self-repression writers are starting, you know, to make the silence emerge. So it's interesting. I've already taken note of this book. Thanks a lot.
PAGEMike, thank you so much for your call. I just note that George Saunders, the author, was actually on "The Diane Rehm Show" for that book, "The Tenth of December." He'll be on the show again, as it happens, next week. I'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls. 1-800-433-8850 is our toll-free number. You can call us, send us an email at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org or find us on Facebook or Twitter.
PAGEWell, we've heard from Lito. We've heard from Elena. Let's hear from the third character, Mario, the father who is dying. And I have to say one of the most touching parts of the book was when he is thinking about the advice…
PAGE…he wants to give his son, whom he will not see grow up.
NEUMANYeah, and he's thinking about advices. He hates advices, but at the same time he thinks he should give some advices before, you know, the tape stops. So he finally comes up with this. "Enjoy life. Do you hear? It's hard work enjoying life. And have patience, not too much. And look after yourself as if you knew you won't always be young, even though you won't now, even that's okay. And have plenty of sex, son. Do it for your sake and mine and even your mothers. Lots of sex.
NEUMANAnd if you have children, have them late. And go to the beach in winter. In winter it's better. You'll see. My head hurts, yet I feel good. It's hard to explain. And go traveling on your own once in a while. And try not to fall in love all the time. And care about your looks, do you hear me? Men who don't care about their looks are afraid. In short, advice isn't much use. If you disagree with it, you don't listen. And if you already agree, you don't need it. Never trust advice, son. Travel agents advise you go to places they've never been.
NEUMANYou'll love me more when you're old. I thought of my father the moment we got down from the truck. Our true love for our parents is posthumous. Forgive me for that. I'm already proud of the things you're going to do. I love the way you count the time on your fingers when you set the alarm clock. Or do you think I don't see? You do it secretly, under the covers, so I won't know you have difficulty working it out. I'm going to ask you a favor. Whatever happens, whatever age you are, don't stop counting the time on your fingers. Promise me, Octopus."
PAGE"Promise me, Octopus," that's Mario, from "Talking to Ourselves," the new novel by Andreas Neuman. Now, Octopus, it's one of a series of funny names he calls his son.
NEUMANYeah, he changed the animal every day. It's a game they have. Every day he becomes -- I mean the child -- Raccoon, or an octopus. And every day it's an even weirder animal. So it's a game they have. As long as you can call me an animal, everything will be okay.
PAGEThe moment of Mario's death, it's very -- it's very indirect.
NEUMANYeah, exactly. Because I didn't -- I mean, since this subject is really serious, I was full aware of doing two things. One, using some humor, sometimes. Sometimes dark humor and sometimes just funny humor. And secondly, not being sensationalist, you know. Not blackmailing, emotionally, to anyone. So I didn't want to get very descriptive about hospitals, you know, physical issues. I was interested in the emotional reaction of the ones who lose their beloved beings.
NEUMANNot in the process, physical process, of dying, but how do you feel after having a loss. So I didn't really need to describe the loss. And at the same time, an interesting research was interrupting the book, when it was Mario's turn. So respecting the order of the chapters, you just stop listening to him without any, you know, big, terrible scene of describing him dying.
PAGEThere's more indirection in that we're never quite sure of where they are, kind of an imaginary country…
PAGE…in a way. I think you never say what disease he has. You get the impression that it's…
PAGE…cancer, but you never are explicit about it.
NEUMANBecause, again, I mean, my mother died from cancer. But I wasn't interested in the details of cancer, but in illness in general, and more specifically in the process of grief and in the caregiver. And I thought it was pretty much the same losing your beloved one with one illness or the other, as long as it's a hard illness. In fact, the book doesn't end at all with the loss. That's why we're talking about his death, because the book is not supposed to end with someone dying, but much in the contrary.
NEUMANYou see the process of recovering the joy of life after a loss and the conflicts that Elena has when she realizes you want to keep on living, but at the same time is full of guilt and at the same time she feels relieved and she's embarrassed to be relieved. And those -- I call her, like the Dr. Jekyll and Lady Hyde of caregivers because it's the bright side of taking care of someone and the dark side.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll go to the phones. Stay with us.
PAGEAndres Neuman's new book is called "Talking to Ourselves" and we're taking comments from our callers. We'll go first to Tamika who's calling us from Indianapolis. Good morning, Tamika.
TAMIKAHi. I took care of my mother. She passed away from terminal cancer last year. And the thing that I noticed about how I dealt with it was I became very possessive of her care and almost couldn't accept help from other people who, you know, wanted to help us as a family even though they're family members. And I don't know if the book deals with that part of it, but I seriously doubt I'm the only one who kind of -- you just kind of take the reins and hold on tight and don't really know how to let go and let other people help you. And I can go ahead and, you know, if you have comments to make I can take that off of the air.
PAGEAll right. Tamika, thanks so much for your call and we're so sorry for your loss and caring for your own mother.
NEUMANYeah, Elena (sic) , thanks for calling. Very sorry about your mom. Other people's help is a contradictory subject when you're giving care to someone because on one hand you need other people's support. And you appreciate a lot their questions, how are you going, can I do something? But on the other hand, you're fed up of, you know, doing the reports, updating everyone because you can't get out from the subject.
NEUMANSo it's a double loneliness. Anyone can really help you, meaning they can, you know, drive you somewhere or, you know, comforting you in some way, but no one will be with you there in the hospital or wherever or losing your mother or father. But at the same time, you can stop hoping the others are around. So it's like kind of misanthropic sensation towards the other people get well.
NEUMANAnd that's why when you lose someone you have to relearn how to communicate with the other people. And that's another subject in Elena's character. He does undertake an adventure. She takes a lover during the process and she feels very embarrassed on one hand but on the other hand she's trying to save her life, her body. He's like a mentor for her. She's not only being, let's say, unfaithful but is trying to prepare life of her own after all the process. But, yes, other people's help is difficult -- something difficult to accept and to ask for as well. What do you think?
PAGEYes, I think so. Tamika, thanks so much for your call. Let's go to Los Angeles and talk to Don. Don, thanks for holding on.
DONHey thanks. I'm really looking forward to reading the book. I just wanted to share a quick anecdote because this was brought up in the beginning of the show that when my mother had a massive stroke two years ago, she ended up moving in with myself and my partner. And one of the reactions that we always got from health care -- anyone in the health care industry who would come visit the house, whether it'd be registered nurses or therapists or whatever to work with my mother, is they would look at us. And the first thing they would ask is, where's the women?
DONYeah, and it was just -- we just kind of looked at, well, you know, we're same-sex couple. There's no women. And they just looked at each other -- they just couldn't believe that men were doing this caregiving role. And we got this time and time again, even in an area of L.A. which is very, very accepting of this. As far as a caregiving role though, this was just an unchartered territory for most of these medical professionals.
DONAnd I just wanted to see if you had any thoughts on that concept because you yourself dealt with two sick parents. And the irony of course is the other layer is I do have a sister but for her this is just too much. She couldn't do it. And so for whatever reason this has fallen on the male side of the family and I just want to thank you very much for writing the book and I look forward to reading it. Thank you.
PAGEDon, thanks so much for your call.
NEUMANThank you for your call. I find it very meaningful what you said because traditionally, talking as we mentioned in the beginning, the female side of the family is supposed to take care of the others due to ideological or moral reasons obviously. But what about the man who has to abruptly learn how to take care of the others? That was my father's and myself case.
NEUMANAnd I do find that there is a gap in man's education in this line, in this sense. I think that family shouldn't make distinctions in this sense because you never know when you will have to face this reality. And I think that the more men that can learn these, the better our society would be. In the book the character, the caregiver is female because I found it more conflictive because all her family is expecting for her to do her caregiver job besides her professional job, because she's a teacher and she's reading a lot of books and underlining them to find her own words. But obviously when I say Elena I meant any caregiver.
PAGEDon thanks for your call. We hope your mom is doing okay. Let's go to Brook Haven, N.Y. and talk to Ellen. Ellen, you're on the air.
ELLENOh, hello. Thank you. I'm honored to speak with the author and am looking forward to the book. It's a timely topic for me and I've been fortunate -- I guess I have to say fortunate -- to be in the middle of three generations, my siblings and I in the middle, who have been able to take care of people at home as they died. And I'm seeing this produce very, very kind young men who can then participate in end-of-life care for men and women. And it's just such a powerful lesson.
ELLENAnd when you learn to accept that dying is a part of life, it can become a gift for everyone. As long as you can collaborate and share, give each other space, including the person who is ill, it can be a really wonderful gift to everyone who's involved. But we have actually been blessed to have enough family, enough money and enough time to help in the situation. And I just wonder what people can do to get the others in the situation enough time and money to be able to become caregivers and to therefore educate their children in this life skill.
PAGEEllen, thank you so much for your call. And I wonder if, in writing the book and in your own life experiences, you developed some changed attitudes about what people should do, both people do if they have somebody they know or in their family who is in this caregiving situation with someone who's desperately ill, or if they themselves are -- if you've developed kind of a changed attitude about what is the thing that is -- brings relief to the person you're taking care of but also kind of protects yourself.
NEUMANYeah, well to me it was second learning. I mean I didn't understand my own process of grief until I wrote a book because so many things remained untold until then. That's why I tell that it was hard, but relieving book to write and hopefully to read too. But I didn't want to avoid the uncomfortable situation. I even exaggerate them a bit in order to show more clearly the conflicts of the caregiver in the skin of Elena.
NEUMANBut it's interesting what our listener said before because you do learn a lot as a person too as a caregiver, but it's important to remember our own weaknesses. When you're doing the strong -- the supportive role all the time you can maybe forget your own needs. And that's what you strongly need to be reminded of. And that's why I think that maybe when you're taking care of someone you need not less but more pleasure in your own life in order not to die with the other one.
PAGEOne of the things...
NEUMANThis is difficult, I mean, to place yourself in both roles.
PAGEElena, as you said, early in the book goes out and buys a bunch of books herself. And in her diary interests she is quoting from a variety of books, of real books, real quotes from real books. How did you choose the books that she's quoting from?
NEUMANWell, exactly. Elena knows two pleasures in her life, two main pleasures which are sex and reading. One couldn't disagree. So she tries to explore her own reading knowledge and sexual knowledge. And he -- sorry, she sees how her knowledge about reading and bodies are transformed by these experiences of taking care of someone. When you are concerned about death or illness, everything seems suddenly be talking about it.
NEUMANSo Elena has this sensation that every time she opens a book, that book talks about her loss. So she becomes a underliner of any single word told about this. I had, you know, to negotiate this with her. Elena was a strong -- is a strong woman and was a very strong character so I couldn't just tell her what to do. I had to see it on a table with her and had this negotiation.
NEUMANAll the books quoted in the novel are authors that I more or less love, but I had to reread those books as if I was her. And it was very interesting to underline again those books disguised as Elena because the underlines didn't match with mine. I underlined completely different sentences because I was Elena then. And she -- it's a book about -- not only about quotations referring to loss, illness and grief, but it's a book mainly about how the head, the mind of a reader works while reading because they are not academic quotations.
NEUMANWhat you get in the book is how she fails, what she writes in the margins of the book, the notes she takes. So I wanted to narrate the reactions of the reader when a reader feels that the book is having a dialogue with him or her.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're talking to Andres Neuman about his new novel "Talking to Ourselves." Let's go back to the phones and talk to Alberta calling us from Sacramento, Calif.
ALBERTAHi. First of all, I just want to say that was just a gorgeous passage that Andres read a while ago.
NEUMANThank a lot.
ALBERTASo much wisdom in it. You know, my question -- and I think you're touching on this tension a bit, is I'm wondering how you decided to write this as a novel and whether there was ever any consideration to write it as a memoir?
NEUMANYeah, I thought about it but as I mentioned sometime before, I wasn't sure that I could be totally honest writing a memoir or a nonfiction because I was scared of self censorship or self repression. So I think that sometimes fiction allows you to go deeper in your own conflicts. And at the same time I think that the difference between, you know, nonfiction and fiction, that fiction should be about yourself but the others too.
NEUMANI mean, you should be able to turn anyone else -- everybody else. And when you are writing fiction, as in a writer, you have the duty of imagining yourself in someone else's skin. So this exercise of becoming another one was very important to me. And lastly, I wanted to write this from different perspectives because the book is about the different perspectives of an illness process when you're the ill one or the child or the caregiver. And with a memoir this was impossible because a memoir is supposed to be narrated at one main point of view. And I needed another contrast and other points of view.
PAGEAlberta, what a great question. Thanks so much for giving us a call. Now, this is your second novel to be translated into English. And you work really closely with your translators on your books.
PAGEYes. How so?
NEUMANWell, I enjoy very much translating literature. And I think that translating is the most perfect way of literature because this is the only way of reading and writing at the very same time. The translator is rereading and rewriting a book, which is like a perfect way of enjoying language. But I do, as well, speak more or less English as you can hear. Sorry for my mistakes in English but I do enjoy reading English.
NEUMANAnd it was very funny with my last novel, this process because "Traveler of the Century," the previous one translated into English, is a love story between two translators. And my translators are two, as well -- they're not married but they are a team. So there were these two translators working on a love story about two translators who work together. So it was a book inside a book.
NEUMANAnd you know what? I think that a translation is not a copy or a secondary book. But to me a translation is an original based in another original. So very often, what I like what a translator did with my book, I go to the original and I'd rewrite it so the next translation will benefit from the previous translation. So to me even the original is always moving according to what the translator do.
NEUMANSo we're working at the same time and rewriting at the same time. I get very excited with this process. I do the proofreading, the copy editing process and I'm very excited to take part of the process. I can't do that with, you know, the Chinese for example. But as long as I know the language I try to be involved on it.
PAGESo it continues to be an organic process even after your book is done.
NEUMANYeah, because a book never finishes. When you publish it, it's just to get rid of it and be able to start a new one. But to be honest, the book is an unending creature. So I can take the chance of restarting the book with a pretext of a translation. I mean, language never ends and books either.
PAGEAndres Neuman, thank you so much for joining us this hour on "The Diane Rehm Show" to talk about your new book "Talking to Ourselves."
NEUMANI enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much for your invitation.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She'll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.
Most Recent Shows
Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the Democrats' agenda heading into the midterms, the January 6th investigation, and his new book, "Midnight In Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy And Still Could."
Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times science and global health reporter, discusses vaccine safety, parent hesitancy, and what vaccinating this age group could mean for the future of the pandemic.
Drug overdose deaths have hit a record high during the pandemic. Opioid expert Dr. Andrew Kolodny on why that is, and the roots of America's addiction crisis.