Describe your latest project.
latest novel, Crescent, is basically
about food and sex. I started writing it
after reading Othello and thinking
a lot about racial difference and cultural
identity. I spent about four years studying
Arabic food, just swimming in it — the
romance and Eros and history of it. When
I finished Crescent, I realized
I had all these recipes, so I kept going
and wrote a food memoir about my crazy, multi-cultural,
food-obsessed family — The Language
of Baklava (forthcoming from Pantheon,
spring of 2005). It includes family stories,
Dad's recipes, and my aunt's three-pastry
solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict."
fictional character would you like
to date, and why?
The English Patient, pre-horrible burning accident. He's a count, an explorer,
a pilot, snappy dresser, speaks several languages, reads widely and esoterically,
is a bit of a wordsmith, and is eventually played by Ralph Fiennes. Oh wait,
can I switch to the Harvey Keitel character in The Piano? I love his
indigenous facial tattoos. Plus he's a sensualist — I can't
resist a man who likes to eat and dance and roams around in togas.
one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book or
place to start.
Well, I just really wish everyone would take a crack at Virginia Woolf. She
is such a gorgeous, expressive, supremely important writerthe crystallization
of language and thought. She was a huge inspiration to me when I was starting
out as a young novelist — I learned a great deal from her about
both writing and creating a writing life. If you're afraid of Virginia Woolf
and her complexity, as Edward Albee so adroitly puts it, then you can start
with the movies. Watch — or better yet, read — The
Hours, a lyrical book by Michael Cunningham, based on Mrs. Dalloway.
I especially love Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse, which is funny
and strange and all about taking vacations, a favorite topic of mine.
What section of the newspaper do you read first?
If the headlines don't first stun me into horror and submission, then I'm quite
partial to advice columns. I don't especially care who's writing it, I just
love the whole idea of advice — getting it, giving it out, ignoring
it, letting other people get all tangled up in your private affairs. It's very
Old Country. I grew up swamped in my family's chronic advicegiving and
now I can barely button my sweater without consulting six people first.
makes your favorite pair of shoes better
than the rest?
I have a naughty, dangerous pair of Jimmy Choo shoes with the color and patina
of bing cherries. I can't wear them out because they're five inches of knife-edge
heels and their ruthless little pointy tips were created in the same spirit
as foot-binding. But I bought them because the sado-masochistic shoe salesman
said they made me look like, and I quote, "Jane Fonda in Barberella" which
they do not. But they're too beautiful and mesmerizing to get rid of, so I
visit them in their hiding place in the back of the closet, instead of a stash
of pornography. They are the queens over all the shoes in the closet.
is your idea of absolute happiness?
Having an endless lunch in a sweet little café with a good friend, a
bowl of truffle-scented soup, a conversation that takes us everywhere, and
makes me believe — if only for a little while — that
I will always feel this way, things will always be this good, and everything
is, deep down, fundamentally just and right with the world.