Last night, I attended Michael Chabon’s one and only appearance for his new book, The Final Solution. Chabon first spoke about the origins and meaning of the book, then he read from the first chapter. The event ended with some Q and A. Here’s my take on the event and what Chabon said.
Chabon began his remarks by talking about the first story he ever wrote, "The Revenge of Captain Nemo" (written when he was 10). As a child Chabon loved the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and he said the story he wrote was meaningful to him because it was the first time he consciously tried to emulate a literary style–that of Doyle.
The story is about a mystery of Holmes’s in which he meets up with Captain Nemo, from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Chabon read from the story itself, which was pretty funny in some places, and then he spoke about the feeling of writing that story. He said that writing that story made he feel as though he was inhabited, almost a spooky experience as though a spirit was inhabiting him. He said the writing of it was a magical experience.
Chabon read this story to us because The Final Solution’s main character is an aged Sherlock Holmes, and because he felt that his new book was a sort of return to the basics–the adventuresome stories he loved as a child. Chabon then read from the book’s first chapter. In it, Sherlock Holmes, now old and alone, meets up with a German boy in 1944. The boy is mute, an enigma with a German-speaking parrot on his shoulder.
After the reading ended, Chabon took some questions from the audience.
Q: Please speak about The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (Chabon’s next book).
A: Chabon characterized The Final Solution as a small dish as compared to The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The book is an alternate reality text (Chabon jokingly acknowledged that Roth beat him out in the "Alternate Jewish History Sweepstakes") in which European Jewish refugees were allowed to settle in Alaska during WWII. (Chabon stated that such a bill was actually in Congress during the war. It didn’t pass.)
Since so many Jews manage to emigrate to Alaska, there are not the resultant population and refugee pressures after the war, and consequently there is no Israeli nation. In its place is a Yiddish-speaking group in the Alaskan panhandle. The book is set in the present day and is all about what happens with the Jews in Alaska.
Q: On NPR, Philip Roth said the novel will be dead in 20 years. Your response?
A: Chabon joked that Philip Roth would be dead in 20 years too. Then he said that he remembered Roth saying something like that in the ’60s too. He didn’t seem very concerned about the novel’s death.
Q: How do you conduct research?
A: Chabon said he strives for a balance between research and writing. The internet makes is far easier to find things, but the danger is that you will be so intrigued by the internet that you’ll start surfing, and only come back to the writing hours later.
Q: Why do you write so much about Jewish themes?
A: Chabon characterized the Jewish writers of his generation as returning to Jewishness. He said that writers of the previous generation–Roth and Bellow as examples–opened the field up. They needed to focus on becoming American and making a place for Jews in America. Now that that battle is largely over, Jewish writers of his generation are turning back to their heritage for themes and stories.
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