Burn America. The land of great opportunities is burning, overwhelmed by the Minneapolis protest, resulting from the death of George Floyd, under the eye of the cameras that have filmed the scene, triggering the reaction of the African American community and the disdain of public opinion, invoking justice against the police brutality and an end to racial discrimination.
Hollywood fascinates us and with its stories made of great stories and celebrities, it deludes us that the United States is only this but in reality, behind the skyscrapers, it bites the province, the southern states that derive their well-being from agriculture and oil and this is where the elections are won and harbor the great contrasts of the richest and most powerful nation in the world which continues to not openly condemn racism. There are many American authors capable of telling the contradictions of this country and among them the writer Joyce Carol Oates, 82, has done it constantly, book after book, without ever disappointing the readers.
During his long and prolific career – studded with awards and bestsellers, among which we remember the tetralogy “American Epic”, “Black Water” and “Zombie” – he has spanned every literary genre and in his new novel, “I did the spy ”(La Nave di Teseo, translated by Carlo Prosperi), returns forcefully on the theme by telling of Violet Rue Kerrigan, the little girl in a large family who lives in poverty in the state of New York.
One evening his brothers, Jerome Jr. and Lionel, hit a seventeen year old African American, beat him and left him agonizing on the road. Violet attends the scene and despite all I ask her to keep quiet – including the priest – she will speak to the police. A truth that will cost you the bond with your family. Repudiated, guilty of having betrayed her own blood, her life will fall into a nightmare: Violet is a victim, who will internalize the victims’ guilt, that “betrayal” of her environment that will not stop persecuting her. But Violet will survive. “I did the spy” is a powerful and decidedly current novel, with which Joyce Carol Oates tells the seed of the violence that can take hold and infect anyone. Author of over one hundred works, the Gazzetta del Sud anticipates the topic of her new work, “Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars“, Out on June 9 for HarperCollins in the United States,” an epic of the inner life between mortality and desire “.
His Violet is abused and plagiarized, physically and mentally. The father, Jerome, is a tough man who insists on loyalty at all costs. Still, Violet survives. Did he deliberately leave a thread of hope?
“It is very common for young people to survive abuse, not without difficulty, but with effort. I have more than a glimmer of hope but, as we see in the United States just this week, the legacy of racism and the inability to punish racists involved in violent hate crimes are deeply rooted in our culture. Violet makes a radical choice: she dares to repudiate not only her guilty brothers but also the culture itself, a white culture which, while not tolerating violence in racists, does not explicitly punish it “.
Violence and hope are a frequent marriage in his books. Why?
“True, many of my female characters make their way through trauma of one type or another, entering adulthood. Just as happens in “I did the spy”, the way out must be to give up trying to reconcile with the past, choosing a future where you no longer have the role of the victim. ”
Racism and social inequality are also constant themes in his works. Has the American dream become a nightmare?
«The American dream has been tainted by corruption and bad politics over the decades. After all, the administration of Donald Trump is the most extreme in history, evidently aligned with real criminals. But I wouldn’t say that the “dream” itself turned into a nightmare. In the United States, as in other countries (obviously: we are not exceptional), it is possible to achieve “success” in material terms, through education, industry and a pinch of luck ».
Looking back, in your opinion, has there been a crucial moment in the history of the country, a break that has defined the social balance?
“Yup. The real competition of evolution was the 19th century nightmare. Many fell on the road, few prospered by accumulating fortunes and this was mitigated, to some extent, by collecting income and property taxes. ”
Covid-19 is stressing the American health system and the New York Times, not to forget, dedicated the front page of the newspaper to the victims. How are you experiencing the time of the pandemic?
«It is a distressing moment that is dismaying. Like my other acquaintances, I “quarantined”, live alone in a house four miles from the nearest city, with only the company of two “therapeutic animals” (two kittens). I ended my spring teaching period at Princeton University with the Zoom streaming courses with great satisfaction. I try to go out every day to go for a walk or a run, sometimes with friends, keeping strictly “social distance”. But, I admit, my work is less concentrated because of this atmosphere of unrest and uncertainty ».
Are President Trump and Fauci’s preventive measures heartening you?
«Trump does not inspire confidence in anyone: the majority of US voters have not voted for him, we must say it clearly. And now the fringe of its opponents is getting wider. But yes, Dr. Fauci and his collaborators are experts and the measures they have taken are heartening ».
Still, her creative routine is surprising and she is also very active on Twitter. How can you not waste your time? How can he not get lost while chasing stories?
“You see, it’s all about personal discipline. But there are times of social unrest in which it is very difficult for anyone to concentrate: the needs of the outside world are intense ».
Between novels and short stories, you have written over one hundred works, investigating American society and the family. What does it mean to you?
«I am always intrigued by the exploration of new topics for me. Often my novels are based on vocations, activities, lifestyles different from mine, as in my epic novel “Blonde” (Bompiani, translation by Sergio Claudio Perroni) which explores in detail the private life of Norma Jeane Baker, who has been presented to the world as “Marilyn Monroe”. The opportunity to write about it meant having to see all of Monroe’s films in chronological order. And in doing so, I learned a lot about the life of a Hollywood star and I could see that her talent as an actress and comedian went into the background, obscured by the lights of celebrity ».
And what are you working on now?
«I explore the life of a widow, after the death of her husband and the dispersion of the family, oscillating between the need to come to terms with mortality and start feeling emotions for another person. In some ways it is an epic of inner life, it is called “Night. To sleep. Death. The stars””.
What do you hope for the near future?
“Many of us hope that the next elections will reunite America with its more genuine and idealistic identity.”
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