Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interview with the author of The Mythologist

Vamsee Juluri spent his childhood in film studios tagging along with his mother, a famous film star. He is presently a professor of media studies at the University of San Francisco and the author of two other books, Becoming a Global Audience and The Ideals of Indian Cinema (forthcoming). He also writes regularly about media issues for the Huffington Post. He recently published The Mythologist, a novel about the life of a child actor who was to play Krishna, and has now grown up to a life of anonymity, cloaked in myth and reality.

Here is a short Q&A with the author...

1] Your novel has as its protagonist- the failed hero. What were your motivations for taking a failure as the central character in this, an era that worships success?

The (nearly) failed hero of this novel may indeed seem odd in an age that fetishes a certain kind of success, but this can perhaps be more usefully read as a critique of the modern sense of individual agency. Parashuram, for all his solitary imaginings, is very much stuck in a non-modern or partly modern social space; it is almost as if he is nothing without Big Grandfather to some extent, and AK, a lot more. So although his belief in his own self is tenuous, it is his belief in something outside himself, the myths, so to speak, that redeems him.

2] As the title goes, Mythology is almost a character by itself. What does mythology mean to you?

I am still not sure what precisely mythology means to me, except the sense that these are stories that defy the conventional binaries of truth and falsehood, the sacred and secular, maybe even good and bad. One way to think about it would be to instead pose the question of who is "the mythologist" in the story. Is it Parashuram, the writer and believer of his own myths? Big Grandfather, the Gandhian myth-maker, or AK, the teller of incredible tales to simply get things done her way? Or maybe its the reader, whose beliefs are always his or her own.

3] The book shifts between narration and interior monologue...between the present and a fantasy world created by the protagonist. Does Parshuram ever emerge into reality?
I believe he does.

4] Why did you weave in the twin towers crash into the narrative?
A story about truth and deception set around this time simply couldn't avoid it. My first drafts of the novel were in fact directly centered around the xenophobic media frenzy that took place in the US leading up to the war on Iraq. Ultimately I moved away from the bigger questions and just chose to focus on the sort of effect a trauma like this could have on an illusion-prone individual who has also just had his identity stolen.

5] How much of real life experience has entered the narrative? Do you identify with Parshuram in anyway?
The sense of various places in the novel feels palpable to me when I look at it now. I find the characters a lot more distant though.

6] Who are your favourite authors, and which books are your all time favourite reads?
I must admit to having drifted into reading non-fiction almost the whole time I was writing the novel. I like Salman Rushdie for many of his books. Amitav Ghosh's Calcutta Chromosome ranks very high on my all time favorites for fun and for class discussions. In recent non-fiction I appreciated Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals.

7] Which, of all the myths, is your personal favourite and why?
I found an affection for the story of Dhruva while writing the Mythologist which still remains. The theme of self-banishment, exile, and finally a steadfast sense of surrender, all make spiritual sense in the modern age.

1 comment:

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