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Powell's Q&A

Diana Abu-Jaber

Describe your latest project.
My 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."

  1. Crescent
    $4.95 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist


    Diana Abu-Jaber

  2. Arabian Jazz
    $5.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    Arabian Jazz

    Diana Abu-Jaber

  3. The English Patient
    $4.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    The English Patient

    Michael Ondaatje

  4. The Hours
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    The Hours

    Michael Cunningham

  5. To the Lighthouse
    $7.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist

    To the Lighthouse

    Virginia Woolf

What 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.

Introduce 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.

What 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.

What 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.

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