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‘A Separation’ author Katie Kitamura answers your questions

Transcript

Judy Wodruff: So, now all of you readers out there, get ready.

Jeffrey Brown has the latest installment of our "NewsHour"-New York Times book club, Now Read This.

Jeffrey Brown: A young couple separates. The husband disappears. The wife travels to Greece to find him.

"A Separation" is a mystery in which she and we only learn so much. And it was our November book club pick.

Author Katie Kitamura is here to answer some of the questions our readers sent in.

Welcome to you. Thanks for doing this with us.

Katie Kitamura: Thank you for having me.

Jeffrey Brown: I called it a mystery. I have seen it a thriller.

What -- how do you think about this book?

Katie Kitamura: It's funny.

I think it kind of comes on like a mystery or it comes on like a thriller, but, ultimately, for me, it's a book about grief. It's about letting go of past selves and getting go of people that we have lost as well.

Jeffrey Brown: A thriller is the way in for a lot of us.

Katie Kitamura: I think so, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

OK. So, let's go to some of the questions that we heard, OK?

Katie Kitamura: Great.

Ann Barysh: The narrator demonstrates a level of self-awareness and honesty that is, quite frankly, admirable. Why then did she marry such an unlovable man?

Jeffrey Brown: OK, we have to let in those who haven't read it, the unlovable man.

But this is about picking your characters, right? The narrator is the woman going to find this man. She doesn't really want to find him, but she does.

Katie Kitamura: Yes.

I mean, I think, in a lot of ways, one thing that the book grapples with is the fact that it's really impossible to fully know another person. And I think that includes ourselves. It's hard to really know ourselves 100 percent.

And I think one thing that I thought about a lot as I wrote the book was the fact that we do things that are mysterious to ourselves, whether it's being with somebody who seems less than wholly admirable.

So, in a lot of ways, the tone for the book is of a person who is trying to understand something that happened in the past.

Jeffrey Brown: A person she's decided not to be with.

Katie Kitamura: Yes.

Jeffrey Brown: And now she has to figure out, well, who was he anyway?

Katie Kitamura: Yes, that's right.

I think -- and I think that can happen even with people you feel you have known very well for much of your...

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Katie Kitamura: You come across them again and you think, who was that? And who was I when I was with that person? And that can be a friend or it can be a partner or a parent. It can be anybody.

But you kind of access past versions of yourself through other people sometimes.

Jeffrey Brown: OK. Let's go to our second question.

Scott Hartley: Your narrative begins by plunging into a dry, fire-blackened landscape, and ends contemplating a nameless black pool.

What connection should we draw between these bookends of devastation?

Jeffrey Brown: Bookends of devastation, that's dramatic.

(LAUGHTER)

Jeffrey Brown: But, I mean, he's getting at the sense of place. And for those, again, who haven't read it, set in this far-off Greece, which -- well, you tell us. Why that setting?

Katie Kitamura: Sure. Sure.

It's in a very remote part of Greece called the Mani, which is kind of famous even within Greece for being quite rugged. It's an incredible, beautiful, desolate landscape.

Jeffrey Brown: It's the off-season, so nobody is there.

Katie Kitamura: It's off-season. Nobody is there. It's really sublime in the real sense of the word.

I went there probably 10 years ago now. And I -- it was a very particular time in my life. My father had been sick for quite a long time when I had been there. And he would die two years later. But it was while I was there that I really accepted the fact that he was going to die.

And so, for me, that landscape was really saturated with kind of grieving something that was going to happen. It's more than just a kind of landscape, a beautiful picturesque landscape around the character. It's really a kind of psychological terrain.

Jeffrey Brown: Let's go to the next question, because I think that is about you, goes to your personal experience, OK?

Katie Kitamura: Right.

Caroline Cheng: What personal experiences have prompted her to write such a heart-wrenching story about infidelity, separation, and death?

Jeffrey Brown: OK, well, you started to answer that.

Katie Kitamura: Yes, I did.

I wrote it in the years after my father died. When I started writing it, I didn't think it was a book necessarily about grief. And then, when I finished, I looked back, and there's mourners, there's loss, there's -- the rituals of grief are really fundamental to the book.

So, I think, in that sense, it's really rooted in my experience of that loss, which is a very kind of central one for me.

Jeffrey Brown: OK, let's go to our next question.

David Owens: I'm curious about your literary influences.

Katie Kitamura: I read a lot of fiction in translation. And my character's a translator. And I think that's -- the idea of words being shifted from one language to another is really fascinating to me.

Jeffrey Brown: Why is that?

Katie Kitamura: I grew up in a household that spoke Japanese and English. So I grew up kind of surfing between two different languages, moving back and forth.

And I think that's fundamental to the way I think about language and the way I think about storytelling.

Jeffrey Brown: OK, let's go to one more question.

Katie Kitamura: Thank you.

Cindy St. Amour: My question is, did she kill her husband?

Christy Wooddy: My question for you is, who did it? Who killed Christopher?

Jeffrey Brown: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

We put those two together, the whodunit.

Now, you are not going to tell us who done it.

Katie Kitamura: OK.

Jeffrey Brown: Did you know who did it?

Katie Kitamura: You know, I don't -- I don't know, but it's really funny, because...

Jeffrey Brown: You don't know?

Katie Kitamura: I don't know. I don't know, because, also, the narrator has no name. She's unnamed.

Jeffrey Brown: Yes.

Katie Kitamura: And people often say to me, what's her name?

And I wrote a version of this novel in the third person, before putting it aside. And I think she must have had a name in that version, but I never looked back. And I don't know what her name is either.

Jeffrey Brown: All right, we will continue this online.

And you can find the entire conversation there later.

For now, Katie Kitamura, thank you very much.

Katie Kitamura: Thank you.

Jeffrey Brown: And our next book for December is garnering much attention. It's called "There Will Be No Miracles Here." Author Casey Gerald tells his up-to-the-moment story of obtaining and then questioning the American dream in a deeply personal and political memoir.

As always, we hope you will read along and join the discussion on our Facebook page for the Now Read This book club, in partnership with The New York Times.

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