Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Russian novelist's first book in English: Love's Destiny Foretold

Love’s Destiny Foretold, by Russian native Mary Fisherov, is a sweeping historical love story that brings together an exiled Russian countess, an opera singer, and a world-traveling playboy in the slums and mansions of 1890s New York City as they seek love, fortune and safety. A swirling confection of a story, Love’s Destiny Foretold is a combination of delicious action and witty surprises, for fans of larger-than-life storytelling, epic romance, and some sly observations of “revolutionaries.”

Mary Fisherov is an internationally published writer of literary fiction whose novels have been translated into German, Spanish, and French. She has been awarded several literary prizes in her native Russia. Love’s Destiny Foretold is her first work in English.

Fisherov, who comes from a literary family, is on the Classics faculty of a California state university. Here, she responds to Istoria’s questions about her book and herself:


One of the major characters in your book is an opera star. You describe the music she sings so well that one can almost hear it. Are you an opera fan? If so, what are your favorites?
Fisherov: In my twenties, I discovered opera for myself and became a huge fan for awhile. One of my first discoveries was the ”Ring" cycle at the Met. The seats I could afford were at the very top of the opera house, and the height always made me dizzy. This is how I remember opera: being overwhelmed by music and dizzy from the height. And since Wagner was, in my head, connected with my memory of New York, I made my heroes involved with his music. Wagner, Ellis Island, and Tenement Museum: the triangle of impressions.

Because of the book's operatic feel, it also has a very melodic quality to it. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what? If you could recommend a "play list" for readers to listen to while reading Love’s Destiny Foretold, what would it include?
Fisherov: Unfortunately, I absolutely cannot do two things at once - say, write and listen to music. The only sound I can tolerate while writing is the hum of people's voices in a coffee shop. I think that prose has its own music inspired by the language itself. As a non-native speaker, I was never sure if I got that melodic quality in English. I am very happy that you seem to have perceived it in my text. As a "play" list I would recommend Wagner's The Flying Dutchman and Tristan and Isolde, Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko (the air of magic and incantation),  Ravel's Bolero (for Raoul's madness in the book); and then you have noticed a Carmen motif!

There is at times an almost surreal character to the novella that reminds one of the same quality in, say, the movie Moulin Rouge. Were you attempting to paint that kind of picture? What experience were you hoping the reader would have?
Fisherov: I suppose it is just me, my signature, I cannot write otherwise. Readers find that my other books have a slightly surreal, dreamlike atmosphere about them. I do not attempt to give this impression on purpose - I suppose it is a reflection of how I perceive the world. My task when writing this book was just to write a romance novel, a completely new genre for me. But, I guess, it was unavoidable that I brought some of my previous writing experience into it.

The character of the opera singer herself, Lilane Ferraro, is brilliantly done. Did you have a particular opera singer in mind when writing her?
Fisherov: In some way I was inspired by Maria Callas, who started out as an overweight and completely unglamorous teenager. There was that divine beauty of her voice - and then, by an almost superhuman effort, she transformed her looks, brought them in accordance with her voice, so that her outer shell would express the vocal beauty: turned herself into a goddess.

You have noted that the Russian agents, Kislin and Gerashchenko, are modeled after Russian leaders Vladmimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev. Tell us a little about what you were parodying here in each of them.
Fisherov: I just needed to model the secret service guy on somebody - and I realized I have one just in front of me, he is actually running my country. I know that Putin, like my Kislin, had that dream of working for the secret service from an early age. The KGB was, of course, a most evil organization. Yet evil has always something of an operetta in it, evil is never great or tragic (the suffering it inflicts is tragic). Thus the secret agents serve as a comic relief in my novella. The cold-hearted one needed a sidekick, someone more human. So I gave him Gerashchenko.

Your book lightly, elegantly pokes a little fun at "revolutionaries" especially when Vera wonders about whether "loving humanity" would allow her to love Gabriel, just "one man." Could you share some thoughts on that, on what you wanted readers to come away with from these and similar scenes?
Fisherov: Vera's prototype was the real Russian 19th century anarchist Vera Zasulich who attempted to assassinate Trepov, the colonel who ordered a young man flogged. Russian revolutionaries - I am talking of highly educated, idealistic young men and women - committed atrocities in the name of that abstract love for humanity. It is obvious for us now that abstractions and ideologies cannot have anything in common with real love. Love must be something very concrete. The heart learns to love during an entire life: one meets sometimes these wise old people who are marvelously in love with the entire creation.

You have written literary fiction, but Love’s Destiny Foretold is a romance novella, a delightful confection of a book. Could you tell us why you decided to explore this genre?
Fisherov: Once, in an airport, I was in a very good mood and picked up a novel by Tessa Dare - I guess I was lucky because she writes really well. I never read romance novels before, and was quite stunned at the possibilities this genre offered. Shortly before that, I finished writing a poem that was quite sad, hard, and I very much wanted to amuse myself. In the airplane, I imagined what I would write if I were a romance novelist, and came up with the Love’s Destiny Foretold story.

That summer I was reading a fascinating book by Jack Finney, Time and Again, about a man who time-travels into the late 19th century New York. I especially loved the descriptions of the Elevated Railroad and the Ladies' Mile! My romance novel was very much inspired by it.

Writing it requited a giant leap of faith for me: I do believe in love, of course, but I do not believe in happy endings. However, I suspended my disbelief for the time I needed to finish it.


How long have you lived in America?
Fisherov: I have spent four years on the East Coast in the Nineties, and five past years in California.

This is your first book in English. Would you tell us a little about the challenges of writing in a language that is not your native tongue? Do you know/speak other languages?
Fisherov: In Russia I am asked sometimes if I would ever write a novel about the U.S. Instead of writing about the U.S., I decided to write an American novel. Not in the sense of the Great American Novel, of course. But American in the sense of musicals and potboilers, written in the way that seems American to us, Russians: plot twists, cliffhangers, a dynamic sequence of events, a happy end. Writing it in Russian seemed counterintuitive to me. But in English it came to me quite naturally.

Since English is not my native language, I aimed first and foremost for clarity and precision, to make myself understood. In general, I love foreign languages, I speak a bunch of them. Right now I am learning Catalan.

It is reported that Chekhov once said if you place a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I, someone needs to fire it by the end of the play. You set many "guns" on the mantelpiece and fire them all by the end of the book -- were you aware of that saying?
Fisherov: Yes, very much so! It is a saying that I remember from the school bench. Our existence may be random, but every detail of a creative work must have a purpose. Maybe art is just that: a stubborn fight of human soul against the aimlessness of physical life.
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Mary Fisherov's first English-language book, the romance novella Love's Destiny Foretold, will be available this month (May 2012) for Kindle and for Nook and other ereaders midsummer.

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