Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stephen Dau

Stephen Dau is originally from western Pennsylvania. He worked for ten years in postwar reconstruction and international development before studying creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and Bennington College, where he received an MFA. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on MSNBC, and elsewhere. Dau lives in Brussels, Belgium, with his family.

His new novel is The Book of Jonas.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
With a three-year-old to look after, I basically have the choice to either read or write, and for now, writing feels like the more productive option. That said, I have managed to read two novels during the past couple of months, both of which I loved.

I will read anything Michael Ondaatje writes. If he took a job writing lists of ingredients on boxed cereals, I would read them. And reading The Cat's Table is far, far better than reading cereal ingredients. He has described it as a novel with "the colouring and locations of memoir and autobiography." It has sort of a long, slow plot arc that describes an ocean voyage the protagonist, Michael, makes from Sri Lanka to England in the nineteen fifties, and that voyage's impact on him and his fellow passengers. It features Ondaatje's typically gorgeous language and some deft humor (one passenger is overheard asking another, "But how can it be both a laxative and an aphrodisiac?") and some wonderfully rendered coming-of-age sections that stand out poignantly in a contemporary literary scene that is jam-packed with them.

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending has been stuck in my head for a month. It starts out as a sort of meditation on time and memory and then comes around by the end to implicate the reader in its moral quandaries: to what extent are we responsible for the impact of our past actions on others? Where is the dividing line between their responsibility and our own? And how does memory (or lack of it) play into these questions? How you respond to these queries will color your reading of the book, which is an almost perfectly executed exploration of memory and culpability.
Visit Stephen Dau's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Jonas.

--Marshal Zeringue