[Editor's Note: Vendela Vida will read at Powell's City of Books on Burnside on Wednesday, July 14, at 7:30 pm. Click here for more information.
I never intended to set a book in Turkey. What happened was this: I went to Turkey in the summer of 2005 to finish my second novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. I tend to write more easily about places when I'm far away from them, and June in a coastal town in Turkey seemed about as removed as I could get from a winter above the Arctic Circle (where Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name is set).
It was an intriguing time to be there. Turkey had just been denied admission into the EU, and the people I met were either perplexed or angry. And the house we had rented in this beautiful, sleepy town was... strange. The owners had not put away many of the items — sexual devices and pornographic photos — that you might expect people would put away in preparation for renters. Though I never met the owners of the house, I became inevitably curious about what kind of couple might own and leave such things out in the open.
About a year later, I was trying to start a new novel, and my mind kept returning to Turkey's political situation, and to the mysterious house. I usually take notes on places I'm writing about because I like to get details right, but because I had not intended to write about Turkey, I had no such record. So, I returned there in the summer of 2007, and I revisited the town we had stayed in, the town I had loved. Somehow, in those two intervening years, much had changed and decayed, and it had become a different sort of place. Run-down, crowded, loud. At first, I was both confused and a bit troubled, but then I realized I would make this change part of the story. For me, all novels begin with a question, and the question I started asking myself was: What kind of character would return to a town and be disappointed to find it was not what it once was?
In trying to form an answer, I came up with the character of Yvonne, an American widow and mother of grown twins who honeymooned in a coastal Turkey town, and 26 years later returns there to better understand the course her marriage took. (I pictured her following an unraveled ball of string to its source.)
Yvonne is increasingly made to feel uneasy by her memories of her now-dead husband, and, as she encounters many couples on her trip, she also feels alone. In seeking refuge from her disquiet and from her solitude, she befriends a young boy who collects shells on a beach. Yvonne's relationship with her daughter has long been fraught, and, to her, the boy represents a time when things were simpler. The boy is based on someone I saw on a beach one day, collecting shells, though I never spoke to him or saw his face.
Yvonne's friendship with the boy is frowned upon by some of the local villagers, in part because they don't understand what kind of woman would travel to a foreign country by herself, and in part because they see her relationship with him as symbolic of foreigners getting involved in their affairs. When something happens to the boy... well, I don't want to give too much away.
I eventually gave the novel the title The Lovers because, for me, the novel is an exploration of many types of love — the love one feels for a spouse, a child, a stranger, a religion, a place. I also think the word "lovers" can be either the most intimate or the most alienating word in our language — it all depends on whether or not the word includes you.