Friday, February 20, 2015
On Hotel Arcadia: Disaster Can Bring Out the Best In Us
As many of you know, my new novel Hotel Arcadia will be published in March (bit of a sales plug, it can be pre-ordered here with a discount off the cover price). The Dutch edition of the novel is planned for the same time and can be pre-ordered here. It is my very first translation into Dutch so am particularly excited. This week I wrote a blogpost at Hebban.nl (translated into Dutch - my language skills don't stretch that far!) about what inspired the book and what I hope I have achieved. Below is the English version just in case:
I have studied and analysed political violence for over twenty years and have long been aware that ‘bad guys,’ ‘heroes, and ‘victims’ are never quite simply so. I have always been struck by how so many of the people who survive, even live in, violent situations are also amongst the most generous, compassionate, hospitable, and kind. Through Hotel Arcadia, I wanted to explore this amazing human contradiction where our best qualities seem to go hand in hand with the worst living situations.
In every violent, awful situation, the heroes – in my experience at least - are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They don’t want to be heroes, or even think of themselves as such, but given extreme circumstances, find amazing strength, courage and self-lessness. For Hotel Arcadia, I drew on these everyday heroes to create the character of Abhi. He has never wanted heroics, has walked away from any chance of it, and created a comfortable life. However, when he is forced by circumstances, he rises instinctively to the challenge, motivated not by glory or reward but vast compassion.
At the same time, with Sam, I wanted to put a thoroughly modern woman on the pages, and see how she copes with the pressures of balancing career, love, ambition. I also wanted to write about the women I know and love – the ones who seem to be towers of strength and yet terribly fragile all at once; the ones who must juggle all the myriad aspects of the modern life. And of course, I wanted to explore how love rarely follows boy-meets-girl, fantasy wedding, dream home, babies pattern. I wanted to explore modern love in all its messiness, where it must play tug-of-war with all the other things we want, love, and pursue. In that sense, Sam is the character closest to my heart: she cares too much. About everything.
Of course, there were other ideas I wanted to explore in this book. I wanted to investigate how we look at violence. We see so much of it on our screens, between news, films, video games that I wonder if we are able to distinguish between these anymore.
Finally, as a former journalist, this book is very personal. How do we cover war and violence? Is bearing witness enough? As a journalist, I always struggled to balance the distance required for reportage with my worry that I should have been helping instead. I stopped being a journalist because I could not retain the distance that was demanded from me.
As a novelist, Hotel Arcadia, was my opportunity to explore this moral dilemma more intimately. I still don’t have an answer for myself, but am glad Sam and Abhi found theirs.