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September 20, 2012

Book Notes - Shani Boianjiu "The People of Forever Are Not Afraid"

The People of Forever Are Not Afraid

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Shani Boianjiu's debut novel The People of Forever Are Not Afraid is a mesmerizing exploration of the effects of war on young women. This coming of age story of three young Israeli army soldiers is one of the year's most important books.

Bookreporter wrote of the book:

"In a relentlessly energetic voice marked by caustic humor and fierce intelligence, Shani Boianjiu creates a heightened reality that recalls our most celebrated chroniclers of war and the military, while capturing that unique time in a young woman's life when a single moment can change everything."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Shani Boianjiu's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The People of Forever Are Not Afraid:

Music plays a huge role in my writing process. Actually, it is my writing process. When I write, I spend ninety percent of my time listening to music and jumping around, and ten percent of my time writing. My novel is divided into chapters that I hope can also be read as stand-alone stories. When I first think of an idea for my fiction, and when I write it or edit it, I tend to listen to the same song on repeat for a very long time. Below is a listing for each chapter and the song I listened to when I worked on it. Small warning: even though the subject matter of my book can be seen as serious, my musical taste is rather indiscriminate.

Other People's Children
"Run Like Mad" - Jann Arden

I was writing about senior high school girls in a small town. I tried to convey that period in life when you are bursting with passion and terrible fear that if your life doesn’t start soon it may never start at all. This song is all about that hazy time. It is short, yet contagious. Also, this song was the original Dawson's Creek opening tune, before they (tragically!) changed it, so I associate it with my own youth.

The Sound of All Girls Screaming
"Baby" - Justin Bieber

This is a rather sad chapter about a lonely girl. And this is a Justin Bieber song so I feel like I have to defend this choice. First, I have to admit I love this song (and Justin Bieber) so it was motivational to listen to this song because the chapter is so sad. But also, when I listen to Justin Bieber I think of the millions of young girls who spend years of their lives waiting in lines to see him—and who cry hysterically and faint for him. It looks funny to me now that I am too old to be one of those girls, but I remember being a fanatic child-fan myself not too long ago, and know that all of that crying and emotion feels very real and important at the time, and that all that girly screaming often disguises an inability to be heard in everyday life.

"Leave Your Boyfriends Behind" - Leona Naess

This song actually gave me the idea for the story in this chapter, where one of the characters tires of her too serious relationship and instead delights in all that younger boys have to offer. It's a really sweet song.

"Judy and The Dream of Horses" - Belle & Sebastian

This is a rather violent chapter about a girl with sleep problems who has dreams about a Palestinian man that passes through the checkpoint she is manning, so a song about stories and dreams was great to listen to. Also, even though the song is rather upbeat, there is a sinister, cynical quality to it (like in the lines: Write a song about your dream of horses/ Call it Judy and the dream of horses) that fits the mocking nature of the main character.

People That Don't Exist
"Hug You Till I'm Blue" - Jim Guthrie

This is a chapter about the impossible pursuit of human connection, and I can't think of a song that sounds more like what love must sound like than this one. It doesn't have much to do with the lyrics—I don't know what it is about this song, but I must have listened to it a thousand times when I wrote this chapter.

A Machine Automatic Gun That Shoots Grenades
"Eet" - Regina Spektor

At the start of this chapter, the main character wakes up one morning and finds that she is beautiful. It’s that short period of time in her life when she suspects she is invincible. In this chapter the reality of war and adulthood quickly ends that thrilling time. I think this song captures the loveliness of those emotions, as well as the odd ways those feelings seem to vanish—especially with the line: It is like forgetting/ the words to your favorite song.

The Diplomatic Incident
"This Modern Love" - Final Fantasy

I love the cover of this Bloc Party song. It sounds nothing like the original and is rather crazy. It starts out wild and fast but only continues to increase in pace and intensity from second to second. This is what this chapter felt like—wild tales that span from Israel to Ukraine to Egypt and only got wilder as they went along and eventually crashed into one another.

The Opposite of Memory
"Lemon Tree" - Fools Garden

This is a chapter about childhood memories, and this song is the very first English song I remember loving.

Means of Suppressing Demonstrations
"Zombie" - The Cranberries

I can't seem to stand listening to this song anymore, but I remember listening to it a lot when I wrote this chapter. I guess it is fitting—the protagonist is an army officer who is unable to feel her own body. My novel deals largely with the army, and this is the only song about political violence I think I listened to; it is about the conflict in Ireland, though, and my stories take place in Israel.

Once We Could Pretend We Were Something Very Else
"Change" - Tracy Chapman

This chapter takes place after two main characters have finished their army service. They find themselves stuck in their hometown, and frozen by the experiences they've had. One is about to leave home, while the other is unable to move on with her life. The question I really like in this song about the possibility of change is How bad, how good, does it need to get?

And Then The People Of Forever Are Not Afraid
"Take Me To The Riot" - Stars

The title of my book is based on this chapter, and it is inspired by a line in this song, which made its way into this chapter in a modified form. The line is What now kid? Which way love? I have no idea why, but I became obsessed with this line, and it haunted me for months until I finally got rid of it by using it as a basis for a line in my fiction. The chapter itself has little to do with the rest of this song, at least not in ways that I am aware of.

1.5 Bedrooms in Tel Aviv
"Gold Soundz" - Pavement

This chapter focuses on a romance between one of the main characters and her boss at a sandwich kiosk on a street in Tel Aviv. I am not quite sure why, but this song makes me think of summer, specifically a wild summer of parties in Tel Aviv.

The After War
"Running Up That Hill" - Placebo

Even though a lot of my writing deals with dark topics, I usually listen to upbeat songs when I write, in order for the music to energize me. This chapter was so difficult to write that I couldn't do that. This song scared and moved me when I first heard it during one of my friend's powerful modern dance pieces. I don't like listening to it because it puts me in an eerie low mood, but I found myself having to listen to it as I wrote this chapter.

Operation Evening Light
"New Slang" - The Shins

I don't know what it is about this song. I can't even catch the lyrics when I listen to it. But I think there is no song quite like it. I can listen to it for hours. It is calming and heartbreaking at the same time, and whenever I hear it I think of endings.

Shani Boianjiu and The People of Forever Are Not Afraid links:

Bookreporter review
Christian Science Monitor review
Jewish Daily Forward review
Kirkus Reviews review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
The Millions review
NPR review
Publishers Weekly review

New York Times essay by the author
NPR guest post by the author
Reuters profile of the author
VICE interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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