April 3, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Laleh Khadivi's The Walking is a brave and powerful novel about displacement and brotherhood told in assured, lyrical prose.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"A successful novel needn’t set out to teach us something — to bend us morally — but the precision of Khadivi's sentences, each with a gentle rhythm and a sure-footed intelligence, engenders deep sympathy for the miseries experienced by forced migrants."
In the name of research I spent a good part of 2009 staring at maps of migration – animal, fish, man, bird – until the visual pleasure of the long arcs and arrows wore off and I began to wonder: why? Why, arctic tern and blue whale and Iranian man do you go so far? How has nature wired us to leave the places we know best to go to a place where we know nothing? By 2010 I had a fourth grader's rudimentary understanding of migration as a simple system of pushes and pulls, sometimes in equal parts, sometimes not. In the case of my protagonist, Saladin, his move was 30% push (fleeing from a brutal arm of the Islamic Revolution) and 70% pull (running eagerly, happily, readily to the America he had dreamed of his entire boyhood, toward the pull of movies, women, music). In my 'studies' I came to understand that humans are the only species on the planet who migrate as a result of their imagination. Everything else moves because of clean instinctual programming that tells their hearts and souls and limbs. Go. There will be food. Go. There will be warmth. Go. There will be sex. Humans often pick up with no more than a few slivers of hope. There will be more. It might be better. I hope it is better. I imagine a fine future for myself. Yes we move to survive war and famine and the state crushing our soul but we also move for love, for pleasure, for a future we can only imagine. Saladin leaves his hometown to survive, to keep on with life and, ostensibly, propagate his genes, but he also leaves because something in the look of American movies and the sound of American music pulls at him and that is where he must go.
When I finally stopped researching and sat down to write The Walking I imagined what he listened to as a boy, as an adolescent, as a young man with one foot walking towards America and what those songs – Ray Charles "Hit the Road Jack," Elvis Presley "Blue Suede Shoes," "Rolling Stones" Satisfaction (I understand the RS were and continue to be British, but they learned everything they knew/know from American blues), Mamas and the Papas "California Dreaming," Temptations "Just My Imagination," Beach Boys "Surfing USA," Undisputed Truth "Smiling Faces," Anita Ward "Ring My Bell," Simon and Garfunkel "Mrs. Robinson," Sister Sledge "We Are Family," The Fifth Dimension "Age of Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" – must have sounded like to ears born in a town with three radios, two mosques and a million mountains all around. Why wouldn't he want to trace the sound to the source? I tried to hear them for the first time, tried to understand the lure buried deep within. On the surface it was easy. The sex in the bass. The propulsion in the drums. The fantastic seduction of those voices. You could almost hear Elvis's lip curl, feel the heat of the sun behind Brian Wilson's ears, wrap yourself in Temptations harmonies like they were thick blankets. But underneath the sound there was something else, a world of exposed senses and big tones, an endless lust and throb completely different from Saladin's life as a Kurdish boy in village in far western Iran. He must have swallowed those songs whole and let himself believe, hope, that if he moved in their direction, if he let those sounds pull him promises would be kept, light would shine and all the people in the new life would smile at him and agree yes, it is as you imagined it.
Having said that, when I finally put pen to paper I keep a steady diet of jazz. I have listened to these albums for years now, every time I am stuck or bored or need to forget myself and drop into the worlds of the book. They are wordless and timeless and something in the meditations of their rhythms goad me to write. Keep writing. Vast. More. I always listen to the whole album, one song is never enough.
Mingus Plays Piano by Charles Mingus
The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery by Wes Montgomery
Organ Grinder Swing by Jimmy Smith (the Hammond B-3 is the end of all writers block).
Somethin' Else by Cannonball Adderley (To write the rhythms of walking: Autumn Leaves)
Djangology by Django Reinhardt
Anything by Bill Frisell
Kofi by Donald Byrd
Earl Fatha Hines by Earl Fatha Hines
Laleh Khadivi and The Walking links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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