Irish based American author discusses his controversial début novel.
Author of several non fiction books, including Shakespeare for Beginners, Yusuf Toropov is also a noted playwright. His début novel, published by Orenda Books, is a complex and challenging book that compels the reader to question their preconceptions about the war on terror.
When writing Jihadi: A Love Story did you anticipate controversy?
I did. The book presented itself as a provocation to me, and the premise – a US intelligence agent is accused of terrorism — left me wondering about a lot of big questions. So yes, I expected some people to get the book and others to be taken aback by it. It’s meant to help you connect with people you might not otherwise meet. It’s meant leave you thinking, make you consider challenging your own assumptions, and I certainly knew that sometimes people resist that. Lately, I’ve taken some heat online for daring to talk openly about an American Muslim’s perspective on the so-called War on Terror, which is part of the book. That didn’t come as a surprise.
How did you keep track of the strands when plotting the multiple source narrative structure? Did you use a software package or integrate sections during revision?
It really wasn’t as complex as all that. I didn’t use any special software. There were just two voices to manage, one belonging to a guy who knew he was going to die, and the other belonging to someone who wanted the last word. I moved scenes around, but you do that on any novel.
The use of multiple stylistic and structural techniques to convey the novel’s themes places it firmly within the realms of postmodernism. Is this a reflection of your reading preferences?
Guilty as charged. There’s a big poster of Vladimir Nabokov up on my bedroom wall. He was also a modernist, I think, but I am a PALE FIRE junkie, which is definitely postmodern. John Banville has been called a postmodernist, so has Jorge Luis Borges. All heroes of mine.
In your opinion, is the book plot or message driven?
I hope it’s driven by the characters. The only way I got the plot to work was by listening to them. I want the book to be its own message, whatever’s driving it.
You are working within a genre and use devices more commonly found in literary fiction. Was it hard finding a publisher who would accept the manuscript?
It did throw some people. But I should say, I didn’t even realize I was writing a thriller until I was about 10,000 words in. Genres are a marketing tool, I think. I always approached it as a book first, as something that was meant to tell a story. That’s the ultimate meta-genre: A story you care about as a reader. That’s what I was going for. I’m a true believer in destiny, so I think I found the publisher I was supposed to find at the precise moment I was supposed to find her. Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books gave me some amazing notes on the manuscript. I’m very grateful we connected, and I know there was a reason we did.
Did you at any point consider self publishing?
You actively engage with readers and fellow writers on Twitter. How important is social media in terms of finding an audience?
I think it’s just part of the equation now. One way or another, interactive media is going to play a role in how your work is going to be perceived. To me it just make sense to engage with people.
Jihadi: A Love Story was issued as an e-book several months before the print edition was published. What, if any, are the advantages of publishing digitally for a new writer?
It’s a double-edged sword. It gives people easier and more immediate access to your book. At the same time, there are some books, and I think mine is one, that benefits from a physical presence. I’m of two minds. Personally, I’d rather read fiction in a physical book, and I think that kind of reader is who I was writing for.
Will we see a second book? If so, when?
You will. I honestly don’t know how long it’s going to take. Books are different from babies, there’s no predictable gestation period. But it’s on the way.