& occasionally about other things, too...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A writer must follow inner criteria: Yoko Morgenstern

Q & A with Yoko Morgenstern, author, translator 

Yoko's novel Double Exile, published by Red Giant Books, will be released on July 22 at The Japan Foundation, Toronto

            Q. Your novel is unique in many ways because it walks along a precarious razor's edge by attempting to portray the helplessness of most Germans under the Nazi regime, and the fact that they had little choice but to support the regime. What inspired you to adopt such a bold theme?

A. It is based on my bachelor’s thesis. When I learned about Carossa, I strongly felt that his story had to be told. Not because he was a heroic person, but rather opposite.  He was an unfortunate combination of social responsibility and a passive personality. As Ayumi expresses in the novel, I couldn’t feel for him at first, and it was a challenge for me as a novelist to imagine and understand someone else’s life under an extreme circumstance.

Q. Your background is unique in the sense that you combine the sensibilities of three distinctive cultures - Asian (Japanese), European (German) and North American (Canadian). All these cultures find a reflection in your maiden novel. Would it be right to say that your personality has now become a confluence of all these three cultures and that no culture predominates?

A. Not really. As I age, I feel my Japanese identity more than anything else. This is also due to my engagement in translation of Katherine Govier’s novel past years, which is set in the 19th century Japan, and so I was deeply absorbed in its history, culture and language. But this can change from time to time. When living in Canada I developed somewhat of a Canadian identity. Although I’ve spent more than a decade in Germany, I never feel German identity or sense of belonging or whatsoever.

Q. You've worked on the manuscript for a long time, in addition to your own hard work, who and what helped you the most in the writing of your maiden novel.

A. I was fortunate to have a chance to learn fiction writing from Katherine Govier on a one-on-one basis. I also learned a lot every time I had something edited by native English speakers, but on the other hand, it could be confusing because sometimes every native speaker says different things, maybe you know that yourself. So I think it’s important for a writer, regardless of what language you use, to have inner criteria to follow.

And of course, reading feeds your writing. When I encounter striking words, phrases and sentences I write them down, which I have never done with my own language. Writing in someone else’s language makes you humble.

The last and most important thing is to have supportive friends, regardless of writer or non-writer. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to make it all this way.  

Q. You have written several powerful short stories, when you plan to publish a collection of short stories.

A. Yes, this has been on the top of my to-do list for a long time, but I just haven’t had a chance to complete it so far. I’ve been having a crazy couple of months - three books to publish in one season. It’s exciting, but also exhausting. I sort of miss quietness in which I can concentrate on creation.  Once things calm down, I’m going to write the rest of the stories.

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