Katie Kitamura’s book is on fire.
That’s what the cover tells you. “A Separation” is covered in long red, yellow and orange flamed brushstrokes, which also tells you another thing: this isn’t going to be a fairy tale.
I got a opportunity to interview Kitamura over email, and meet her during the Savannah Book Festival’s Festival Saturday on February 17.
“Oh, you’re Scarlett?” Kitamura said as she signed my copy of “A Separation,” “Thank you so much for your questions! I am so embarrassed I answered you so late!”
My heart melted, and I simply fell in love with the kindness and humble nature of this author of three books and travel writer for the New York Times.
Her newest release, “A Separation,” tells the story of a failed marriage, in which a woman went looking for her soon-to-be ex-husband in Greece, without imagining what waits for her at the end of her journey.
The novel’s main character, however, isn’t named throughout the book. “I like gaps and inconsistencies – I like the idea of a character or a place that is unfinished, that is in a state of transition,” Kitamura said.
Indeed, in her previous novel “Gone to the Forest,” Kitamura doesn’t name the country in which the story takes place. “The narrator in “A Separation” is someone who is trying to create her persona over the course of the novel,” the author said. “She’s in between identities, she’s without name. At least to me. People have asked me if I know her name, and I don’t.”
One can imagine it wasn’t easy to write about a character who couldn’t be named, only referenced in the third or first person, so I asked the author what was her biggest challenge with that process.
After writing some drafts in the third person, and setting them aside for a couple years, Kitamura decided to re-visit the project, this time from the first person. “That unlocked something in the book for me, and from that point onward the writing became much easier,” Kitamura said. “The decision itself was very quick and intuitive, but getting to the point where I was able to make it was probably the most challenging aspect of writing the book.”
There’s a travel aspect present in this book, but it is captivating to thing Kitamura is also a travel writer, and regularly write for the New York Times. The traveling plays a big part in her writing process for journalism or pieces of fiction. “When I travel, it’s a little bit like the receptors in my brain have been switched on – I start to see possibilities, ideas emerge out of the landscape. That doesn’t necessarily translate into a piece of fiction that’s set in a particular city or country, but it feeds the process,” said Kitamura.
This process allowed her to write three fiction books: “The Longshot,” (2009), “Gone to the Forest,” (2012) and the latest, “A Separation,” originally published in February 2017 and recently released in paperback, as well.
When asked what she has learned from her writing experience, Kitamura said, “you learn things about yourself – you see aspects of yourself in your writing that are impossible to avoid. But I think the work of knowing who you are has to take place in life, off the page. If you do that work in life, it allows you to be much more free in your writing.”
Finally — unfortunately; I wish I could talk about writing with Katie Kitamura for hours—I wondered what advice she had for aspiring novelists. “To be a novelist, you have to commit to a project – and to work for several years without knowing whether or not it will work,” Kitamura responded. “Writers need varying degrees of reassurance, but really you have to learn to live with doubt. From what I’ve seen, it never goes away.”
By Scarlett Ruggiero.