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Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots Paperback – April 1, 2014
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Amazon Exclusive: Author One-on-One with Jessica Soffer and Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is an American playwright and author. His short stories and personal essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, and The New York Times Magazine among other publications. In 2010, Saïd won a 2010 Whiting Writers' Award for his memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free: A Memoir of a Political Childhood. He lives in New York City with his wife and teaches creative writing at New York University.
Saïd Sayrafiezadeh: In 2009 you wrote an electrifying piece for Granta.com, which garnered a lot of attention. In the span of a just a few hundred words you track the relationship between a husband and wife from birth to death. It packs an astounding emotional punch, all the more since it's written in the second person from the man’s point of view. Being so young, how did you imagine yourself so convincingly in a different gender and age?
Jessica Soffer: The structure of “Beginning End” was a bit of a fluke. I struggle with plot and so I gave myself an exercise: write a piece in which every line’s purpose is to make things happen. The bones of what I wrote were—and still are—the very typical but processive movements between birth and death: being born, going to school, falling in love, working, falling out of love, growing old, growing sick, dying. Everything built around those core points was an attempt to justify and contextualize them—and make them matter.
I’ve found that I gravitate towards nostalgic characters perhaps because nostalgia is such a familiar sentiment. Death and grief and regret are themes that I keep coming back to. I feel at home writing in the voice of someone much older than me because it affords me the opportunity to explore those themes nostalgically, and without being constrained by my own limited experience. Through fiction, I can make everything bigger, better, than me.
SS: Your father, Sasson Soffer, was an accomplished Iraqi Jewish abstract painter and sculptor who died in 2009. (You write about him in the February 2013 issue of Vogue.) Your mother is Stella Sands, editor, author, playwright. It’s easy, of course, to track the connection between your mother’s craft and yours, but how does your father’s art play into your work?
JS: Perhaps the most explicit connection I can draw has to do with lifestyle. Both my parents were/are great proponents of creativity, which was distinctly evident in my childhood: art and drafts and maquettes and red pens and paint splatter and books everywhere, except for coloring books which were banned. They believed in finding ways to pursue a creative life: my father was a landlord so that he could be an artist, my mother an editor so she could write. Once my love for words, for reading and writing, became apparent, it didn’t feel far-fetched to imagine how I might route that into a career (far-fetched would have been a career in finance or medicine)—I just had to find a way, as they did, to make it work.
SS: Your novel has food and cooking as one of its central themes. Where did the inspiration for this come from? Do you spend time cooking in your personal life?
JS: Apricots focuses particularly on the cuisine of my father’s culture: Iraqi Jewish. His memories of his homeland were deeply rooted in food and I’ve always wanted to honor that in some way. His sister is an incredible cook and visiting her home as a child, eating her delicious stews and almond milks and cookies, directly inspired this book: all the scents and flavors. I love to cook. It’s a useful counterpart to writing: chopping, stirring, focusing on the consistent whir of the food processor. But I never write on a full stomach. It makes me sluggish, and the narrative follows suit.
SS: You teach creative writing at Connecticut College. As a young writer yourself, you no doubt serve as something of an inspiration for your students. What advice might you give to those who aspire to create a career in writing?
JS: Read. Read. Read. Find voices that inspire you. Don’t show work to the light too soon. Grammar is not underrated. Read. Read. Read. Nathan Englander says that writing is a moral act. It is. You are delivering something brand-new into the world. Let the gravity of that inspire and motivate you. And read. Read. Read.
Photo Jessica Soffer ©Beowulf Sheehan
From the Kitchen of Jessica Soffer: Recipes from the Book
When 14-year-old Lorca is discovered cutting herself at school and is suspended, her mother decides to send her to a private school. Hoping to dissuade her, Lorca sets out to find a recipe for Masgouf, an obscure Iraqi dish that her mother, a chef, once said was the most delicious thing she had ever tasted. Lorca’s quest leads her to Victoria, an elderly Iraqi-Jewish immigrant who can teach her how to make the dish. Both lost souls, the two bond and soon begin to suspect there is a connection between them larger than that of teacher and student. Told in Victoria and Lorca’s alternating first-person voices, the character-driven novel focuses, sometimes microscopically, on the characters’ troubled emotional lives. The slow pace of the developing story sometimes tests the reader’s patience but nevertheless offers fully realized, multidimensional characters who invite empathy and compassion. --Michael Cart --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots" may revolve around food, but hunger--emotional hunger, is its centerpiece. The widow, Victoria, lives with the regret of having given up her child for adoption and thus denied her husband the joy of being a parent while the teenager, Lorca, only lives in the hope and for the day her self-absorbed mother will bestow her love on her. Author Jessica Soffer very effectively communicates the world of pain these two characters inhabit. Even Ms. Soffer's beautiful metaphors cannot soften (for the readers) the raw feelings Victoria and Lorca have to deal with. Lorca's story is especially heartbreaking and if any readers feel like grabbing Lorca's mother by the shoulders, shaking her and slapping her in the face, I am with them. And if they feel like reaching through the page to hold Lorca's hand in order to stop her from putting the razor blade to her arm, I can say I was there too. That's how powerful Ms. Soffer's portrayals are in this book.
"Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots" is not a syrupy, feel-good book. For some readers, the vivid descriptions of Lorca's self-inflicted harm may be too much. For others, Victoria's internal dialogues may feel like a drag. But these two characters, these two women feel real in their reflections of anger, grief, vulnerability, love and ultimate forgiveness.
Don't get me wrong - I desperately wanted a happy ending for the two leading ladies Victoria and Lorca, but when it eventually came (at the eleventh hour!) I felt I had missed 50 pages of the book - it was that incongruent with the story I had completely invested in up to that point.
It wasn't just the ending that lacked authenticity; I don't believe a woman in a purported loving and happy relationship would reject her baby (& I don't believe a husband would shy away from talking about it either). I think the author struggled to make this particular plot point believable, which is why shy brushed over the reasons with clunky jarring explanations. Was any reader truly sympathetic to Victoria's reasoning? As a result, I was unable to reconcile Victoria's inner thoughts, actions & behaviour with the delightful gentle woman that generously cares for Lorca. In turn, I couldn't reconcile Lorca's maturity and self awareness in a child so neglected and unsupported by all the adults in her life.
Finally I felt very uncomfortable with the romantic literary descriptions of self harming behaviour - I appreciate the fine line an author must play in trying to explain the actions taken by a character, but well - I wouldn't want my daughter reading it - ever!
At the conclusion of the novel I felt very flat - I didn't believe her ending was authentic and consequently focussed on the self destructive ways we destroy relationships that matter to us - not very moving or uplifting as a parting message is it!
Although much time was spent on it, the relationship between Victoria and Joseph never made sense to me. What motivated Victoria to want to give her baby up for adoption? Short shrift was given to explaining this pivotal decision, and the reasons that were described just did not ring true for me. Also,why would Joseph think that keeping such a profound secret about the baby was a kindness to Victoria rather than compound her feelings of pain and regret? Frankly it seems like the ultimate in passive aggressiveness rather than selflessness. It's hard to understand how two people who supposedly loved each other so much, communicated and understood each other so little. The warm and loving elderly Victoria was incongruous to me with the cold and selfish younger version of herself. Rather than the author going on page after page in minute detail about their stagnant emotions at specific times in their lives, I would have preferred to have had a better understanding of what motivated Victoria, Joseph, and even Nance to behave the way they did.
All that said, I did enjoy Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots, especially the fast moving last part of the book and its satisfying ending. It's just a shame that it could have been so much more.