Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Timothy Jay Smith

Timothy Jay Smith has traveled the world collecting stories and characters for his novels and screenplays which have received high praise. Fire on the Island won the Gold Medal in the 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Competition for the Novel. He won the Paris Prize for Fiction for his first book, A Vision of Angels. Kirkus Reviews called Cooper’s Promise “literary dynamite” and selected it as one of the Best Books of 2012. Smith was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize for his short fiction, "Stolen Memories." His screenplays have won numerous international competitions. He is the founder of the Smith Prize for Political Theater.

Smith's latest novel is The Fourth Courier.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The Fourth Courier, my novel set in Poland, was only released a few weeks ago, but I’m already well into my research for a new novel. Set in Istanbul, it’s the story of a gay Syrian refugee who gets recruited by the CIA to go deep undercover to carry out a dangerous mission. I know Istanbul less well than other locations in my novels, so I’m working my way through a small library of books set there.

In fiction, I like to read the kind of books that I write, and the two novels I just finished were relatively fast-paced stories, but not all action, which had depth and could even be accused of verging on literary. They were Joseph Kanon’s Istanbul Passage and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. Also like my own work, both stories were set against the backdrop of a bigger picture issue, so they were enlightening at the same time.

With scenes of Jews hunkered down on rickety ships destined for Israel, Kanon describes the chaos that ensued for many people immediately after the end of WWII. They’re also a metaphor for the chaos in the diplomatic and espionage circles in which his story plays out.

In his thin and brilliant novel, Hamid tells a different refugee story, of a young couple fleeing war in an unnamed country that has all the trappings of Syria. His novel is exceptionally clever for a device he uses, and all I will say is: the doors. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

So now I have embarked on somewhat drier reading territory. I have Orhan Pamuk’s memoir, Istanbul, to work my way through. He obsesses on details, though I will admit, his Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, which he created as a companion to his novel of the same name, is so obsessed with minutiae of an obsessive love affair that if there were such a thing as installation literature, like there’s installation art, he would define the genre.

Far more adventurous is the non-fiction Midnight at the Pera Palace by Charles King, the title referring to the bar favored by spies and diplomats between the two world wars. It’s great for capturing an era, which isn’t the era I’m writing about, but the circumstances haven’t altogether changed. Istanbul is still a center of intrigue.

I’ve saved the best for last. Certainly the most lighthearted. When someone learned that my new novel involved a gay character in Istanbul, he suggested I read something by Mehmet Murat Somer. (Who? I hadn’t heard of him either.) It turns out, he’s the author of the Turkish Delight detective novels featuring a drag queen Audrey-Hepburn-lookalike who’s also an amateur sleuth. I’m halfway through The Serenity Murders. Who knew that anyplace in Turkey could be so campy?
Visit Timothy Jay Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue