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The Trial of Pol Pot.

Journalist Nate Thayer Reports on Cambodia's trial of Pol Pot. (Interview by Marty Moss-Coane)

22:15

Other segments from the episode on August 7, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 7, 1997: Interview with Nate Thayer; Interview with Arundhati Roy; Review of Charles Frazier's novel "Cold Mountain."

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080701np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: Arundhati Roy
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:00

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane.

One of the surprise bestsellers this summer is a book written by first-time novelist Arundhati Roy. "The God of Small Things" is about an extended family in India -- twin brother and sister, their mother, uncle and great aunt.

The mother defies the so-called "love laws" by having an affair with a man who is not of her caste, an untouchable. That act of rebellion has tragic consequences for the family and provides a way for Roy to explore some powerful taboos.

But that fictional relationship has also gotten Arundhati Roy in trouble in her own country. An Indian lawyer has said that certain passages in the novel involving this illicit relationship are obscene. And he wants the book banned unless the offending chapters are removed. Roy is expected to appear in court in India sometime later this month.

Arundhati Roy joins us today on FRESH AIR. Let's listen as she reads from the beginning of her novel, set in a region called Imanem (ph).

ARUNDHATI ROY, AUTHOR, "THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS", (READING FROM TEXT OF NOVEL): "May in Imanem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crews gorge on bright mangoes in still dust-green trees. Red bananas ripen. Jack fruits burst. Dissolute blue bottles hang vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stand themselves against clear window panes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

"The nights are clear, but suffused with sloth and solemn expectation. But by early June, the southwest monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water, with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with.

"The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn moss green. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through (Unintelligible) banks and spill across the flooded roads. Boats ply in the bazaars, and small fish appear in the puddles that fill the PWD potholes on the highways."

MOSS-COANE: And that's Arundhati Roy reading from the beginning of her book "The God of Small Things."

I had to read that passage several times, just literally to take in the lush language and just to digest what it is that you were writing about. What does it take to write a beginning of a book like that? Does that include many, many rewrites to get the words right?

ROY: Actually, no. I rarely tend to rewrite my language, you know. I don't sort of scrabble around for the right adjective. It just comes.

But I think, you know, I wondered about how you set up a novel, you know, for people. And I think for me, one of the important distinctions between writers, between good writers, is that you have -- you know, you have selfish writing and you have generous writing, where a writer actually tries to communicate, to conjure up a world in which their story is set.

So to me, it was just important -- it was almost like trying to communicate it to somebody that you love; that this is, you know, this is the world I'm writing about and this is what the trees are like; and this is what it looks like when it rains; and these are the little animals that you see. And you know, once that world exists, then the story begins to reveal itself.

MOSS-COANE: How would you describe what your novel is about? It's a complex story. It moves forward and backward in time. It has a complex cast of characters. How would you distill that story for the audience?

ROY: Well, I have to say that that's one thing that I just can't do, because I sort of wage a one-woman war against simplification, you know. And to me, the book is the simplest way of saying what I have to say.

So for me, you know, "The God of Small Things" is really -- it isn't a story that matters, you know. It's an ancient story. It's a love story. It's a story about childhood and motherhood and intimacy and transgression.

It doesn't matter where it's set. You know, the fact that it's set in India is only because that's where I grew up and that is the territory that I know. But for me, it's a story about biology, about our biological natures.

MOSS-COANE: Well, one of the transgressions in the novel has to do with the love law. And the mother in the story, Amu (ph), falls in love, has a passionate love affair with a man of a different sect, a different caste. She's Christian; he's Hindu.

And in your own life, your parents mirrored that same part of the story. Your mother was from a different caste than your father.

ROY: Yeah, that's right. My mother, well, my mother married not -- it wasn't caste -- it was also -- she -- my mother's from Carola (ph). My father was from Bengal. And she was Christian; he was Hindu. They married, and then they were divorced when I was very young, and she came back to live in Carola.

MOSS-COANE: What was the -- what -- yeah, what was the reaction to their marriage? Had they broken the love law so to speak?

ROY: Well, the reaction to them married, you know, among the sort of educated upper class -- if you do something like that and you -- I mean, if she had remained married to him, I suppose -- there would not have been terrible consequences, you know. But when she left him, she had to because of, you know, various private reasons, she comes back into the heart of this traditional community. I mean, not into the heart, actually. She lives on the edge of this traditional community.

And she has children. And this community then does not allow them the assurances that it would allow, you know, people -- it would give people who lived within it.

So it -- in that -- in a -- so what you are is, for instance me and my brother were growing up on the edge of this community which, you know, meant leading a completely unprotected childhood with a very vulnerable mother as a protector.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to have you read a passage from the book, and this is actually from the very end of the book, when Amu, the mother, is making love to this man that is such a transgression. And I should add that a man in India has said that this passage in your book undermines public morality. And you're going to have to go back in a couple of weeks and face a courtroom to defend what you wrote.

But first, I want to have the audience hear your words as you read this passage.

ROY: OK.

"She unbuttoned her shirt. They stood there skin to skin, her brownness against his blackness, her softness against his hardness, her nut-brown breasts against his smooth, ebony chest.

"She smelled the river on him -- his particular (Unintelligible) smell that so disgusted Babigochema (ph). Amu put out her tongue and tasted it in the hollow of his throat, on the lobe of his ear.

"She pulled his head down towards her and kissed his mouth, a cloudy kiss, a kiss that demanded a kiss back. He kissed her back, first cautiously, then urgently.

"Slowly his arms came up behind her. He stroked her back very gently. She could feel the skin on his palms, rough, calloused, sandpaper.

"He was careful not to hurt her. She could feel how soft she felt to him. She could feel herself through him, her skin, the way her body existed only where he touched her. The rest of her was smoke.

"She felt him shudder against her. His hands were on her haunches, pulling her hips against his to let her know how much he wanted her.

"Biology designed the dance. Terror timed it, dictated the rhythm with which their bodies answered each other, as though they knew already that for each tremor of pleasure they would pay with an equal measure of pain, as though they knew that how far they went would be measured against how far they would be taken. So they held back, tormented each other, gave of each other slowly.

"But that only made it worse. It only raised the stakes. It only cost them more because it smoothed the wrinkles, the fumble and rush of unfamiliar love and roused them to fever pitch.

"Behind them, the river pulsed through the darkness, shimmering like wild silk. Yellow bamboo wept."

MOSS-COANE: And that's Arundhati Roy reading from "The God of Small Things." I think that's a beautiful passage.

ROY: Thank you. Well, other people don't think so.

MOSS-COANE: I know. And I wonder, when you wrote that passage and even when you conceived of the story, if indeed you conceived of it in a conscious kind of way, whether you thought you would get yourself in trouble with the censorship laws in India. Did that cross your mind?

ROY: Well, firstly, yeah, I didn't conceive of it consciously. It's a story that revealed itself to me as I wrote. But there are no censorship laws in terms of actual, you know, laws when you write a book.

There are in cinema and television, but not in this. I have to say that, you know, I -- I'm always in trouble in India, so this was something which I didn't know it would be exactly this, but I was not surprised that something happened, you know, because India is a country where there can be no consensus on really important things, you know.

It's a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously. And I -- the way I look at it is that it is the fallout of literature. It's the cutting edge, you know. And for me, it's important to argue this case because that is my territory as much as it is the territory of whoever has filed it against me.

MOSS-COANE: But if there are no specific laws, when you go back to India and I assume have to face someone in court, what are you going to defend and on what grounds?

ROY: Well, you see the way it works is that a private citizen has -- he's a lawyer, this man -- he has filed against -- a criminal case against me in the lower court. You know, it's a district court. And when the magistrate admitted this case, it becomes like the State of Carola versus me.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

ROY: OK? Now, I have -- and what he's done is, he hasn't even sort of bothered to submit the book as evidence. All he did was to photocopy three pages, and say, "Isn't this obscene?" And he submits it and the magistrate admitted the case and sent a summons to me.

Now, I have appealed in the high court, and in my petition I have actually quoted from other judgments. There are liberal judgments about things like this, you know. How do you define "obscenity"? And who is the custodian of public morality?

And so I'm just hoping that the high court will quash this complaint. And if it doesn't, then I'll appeal to the supreme court.

MOSS-COANE: Let me ask you, though, and this is something I'm sure writers like yourself would have to grapple with. If it was found that there was something obscene about this last chapter, and you were asked to remove it from the novel, would you do it?

ROY: No. I would just withdraw the novel. I would not tamper with it. I mean, I would not have the choice of not removing it and continuing to have it published.

But I would not publish it with passages removed. No I would not allow somebody to tell me what I can write and what I can remove.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I'll tell you what. We're going to take a very short break and then we'll talk some more.

Our guest today on FRESH AIR is Arundhati Roy, and she's written a book. It's her first book -- a novel called "The God of Small Things."

We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(BREAK)

MOSS-COANE: My guest is Arundhati Roy, and her novel is called "The God of Small Things."

I understand that you ran away from home at the age of 18. Is that right?

ROY: That's right.

MOSS-COANE: What were you running from?

ROY: Well, I didn't -- it wasn't that I ran away from home. I was in the school of architecture. I was a student in Perdia (ph). And I just, you know, found that I was not willing to live my life on someone else's terms. And I just said that I would earn my own living and work my way through college. And that's what happened. That's what I did.

MOSS-COANE: Where did you go at the age of 18?

ROY: I continued to study architecture. I used to work in offices and, you know, in my spare time. And I had a boyfriend who was senior to me who was working, you know, also in an office.

We had no money and there was no, you know, it was sort of a completely anarchic existence. Then we also would try to -- you know, we were in trouble with our college because we were trying to form a student's union.

And so we actually lived in, you know, within the walls of an old ruin. There was a squatter colony. We used to live there.

MOSS-COANE: So you squatted. Did you have a tent or something that you lived under?

ROY: No, no -- it was just a little shanty hut, sort of mud walls and tin roof. It wasn't so bad. It was fun.

I mean, I've seen that the press tries to make this out to be some tragic episode, but it wasn't. It was a group of us who enjoyed ourselves enormously and were very involved with our work and, you know, to be 17 years old and have nobody to tell you what to do and how to run your life is a great privilege.

MOSS-COANE: Well, it's a great -- a very heady experience, too. Did you learn to be resourceful? Or were you already?

ROY: We were -- we had to be.

MOSS-COANE: Yes.

ROY: Yeah.

MOSS-COANE: You then wrote screenplays, even before beginning to write this novel. And I believe even acted in some films.

ROY: Ooh. That's an embarrassing part of my life.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: I assume you weren't happy with your performance, then?

ROY: No.

MOSS-COANE: No?

ROY: I was -- I never wanted to be an actress, but I actually -- my husband, I mean the man who's my husband now...

MOSS-COANE: Yes.

ROY: ... was making a film and he was casting for it and, you know, happened to see me and asked me to act in it. And I, you know, I didn't -- I didn't have any intentions of being an actress.

But I thought it was a great way to, you know, to get sort of good seats watching how a film is made. So I did it. And I hope no one ever sees those films.

MOSS-COANE: And are you going to share the name of these films with us?

ROY: No.

LAUGHTER

MOSS-COANE: (Unintelligible) look you up. Did you know, even as you were doing it, that "I can't do this. This is something I cannot do?"

ROY: Well, I, you know, I don't -- after I finished that film which I acted, and I actually wrote screenplays. And one of the reasons why I don't want to make films -- didn't want to make films anymore -- was that I just can't bear actors. You know?

MOSS-COANE: Oh really?

ROY: Their egos -- I can't deal. But I -- it was fun when we were doing small films and everyone was an amateur, you know. Then there was no problem.

MOSS-COANE: Right.

ROY: But after that, it was quite -- you know, it wasn't -- though we had more money to make the films, it was just not enjoyable, you know? But yeah, I -- there was no way that I had any -- I just had no intentions of pursuing an acting career. But I wouldn't have known that until I did it once or twice.

MOSS-COANE: This summer marks the 50th anniversary of the independence of India. Are you going to mark that day -- that celebration in any special sort of way?

ROY: See, when you fly from America to India, you lose a day. And the day that I lose will be August 15.

LAUGHTER

ROY: You know? I, you know, say that in India -- India is at the moment swarming with sort of BBC and NPR and everyone else is very excited about it, but India -- in India, you know, people feel that this is a country that's a little older than 50. So there's -- and independence came to us in such a troubled way, you know, because it also came with the partition of the country, with a million people massacred.

In living memory, you know, people have lost members of their families. In living memory, it's very hard, somehow, to not -- it's very hard to feel one thing, you know, about independence. It's a wonderful thing.

But it's also mixed with so many terrible memories. And it's something which, if you -- and if you were in India now and you opened the newspapers, you really have to sigh, you know.

So, it's so hard to feel that you're not in -- I mean, you know, one can only hope that it has to get worse before it gets better. But colonialism is a terrible thing. It does terrible things to people. And it doesn't go -- it didn't go away on the 15th of August, 1947.

MOSS-COANE: Well, I want to thank you very much for joining us today on FRESH AIR. Thank you so much.

ROY: You're welcome.

MOSS-COANE: That's novelist Arundhati Roy. Her book is "The God of Small Things."

Coming up, another new novelist.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest: Arundhati Roy
High: Novelist Arundhati Roy is making her debut with "The God of Small Things" (Random House). Roy is also a screenwriter with two films to her credit and the winner of the 1989 National Award for Best Screenplay.
Spec: Culture; Lifestyle; Entertainment; Authors; Novels; Literature
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Arundhati Roy

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: AUGUST 07, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 080702NP.217
Type: REVIEW
Head: Charles Frazier
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:58

MARTY MOSS-COANE, HOST: First-time novelist Charles Frazier has hit the literary jackpot. The movie rights to his Civil War-era novel "Cold Mountain" has just been sold for over $1 million. And Anthony Mengela (ph) of "English Patient" fame has been signed on to direct.

Book critic Maureen Corrigan says this time, the hype is justified.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, BOOK CRITIC: To tell the truth, I was leery. The word on "Cold Mountain" was that it was a love story by an unknown writer named Charles Frazier. The novel had snuck onto the bestseller list this summer largely through word-of-mouth raves by readers and independent bookstore owners.

In a recent "Newsweek" profile, Frazier was described as a shy, down-home sort of guy who lives and writes far from the madding literary crowd. All of this sounded creepily close to the profile of another unknown folksy writer whose love story had blitzkrieged the bestseller lists a few summers ago.

I still can't say "The Bridges of Madison County" without first consciously suppressing my gag reflex. So I made myself a deal. I'd dip into "Cold Mountain," but if there were any sensitive muscular heroes in it who kept musing on their own sensitive muscularity, I'd dump the book quick.

Instead, nearly an hour passed before I realized that in its first few pages, "Cold Mountain" had charged me up into a state of high attentiveness. A Confederate soldier named Inman lies in a field hospital near Raleigh, North Carolina reading a moldy copy of John Bartram's "Travels." His cot is next to that of an amputee whose severed leg smells like last year's ham.

Despite his own festering neck wound, Inman is consumed by thoughts of desertion. He plans to walk clear across the state to reach his home on remote Cold Mountain. The Civil War has been raging for four years, and Inman is weary, apathetic, and yearning to see a woman named Ada whom he had to leave before the relationship clarified.

The succeeding chapters alternate between Inman's Ulysses-like odyssey of return, dodging capture at the hands of the bounty-hunting home guard, and Ada's solitary battle against starvation on the Cold Mountain farm she inherited from her father.

After her father's death and the farmhand's desertion, Ada, a young lady, who's been prettily educated in Charleston, realizes that she could not even weed a row of young bean plants. Ada's options, as she sees them, are to sell the farm for a pittance and return to Charleston, where she would have to politely sponge off friends, or negotiate a marriage with one of the aging and ineffectual leftovers of Charleston society.

She's rescued by the appearance not of Inman, but of Ruby -- a work-hardened young woman who teaches Ada how to bring the farm back to functional life. Together, these two women chop down trees, kill chickens, make hard cider, cure tobacco, and in general, make Martha Stewart look like a mere do-it-yourself dabbler.

In Ada and Ruby's narrative, Frazier does a rare thing. He makes the struggles of the women waiting at home feel every bit as exhausting and dangerous as the adventures of their menfolk away at war.

It's Frazier's elegant precise writing style, his focus, for instance, on every detail of how desperate people would go about sifting salt out of the smokehouse dirt floor that lifts "Cold Mountain" out of the category of "ye olde fake historical fiction" and into a realm where even the most minor descriptions and characters feel authentic.

Frazier grafts his considerable research onto a great old-fashioned multi-layered narrative. I've never had the quintessential summer experience of sitting around a campfire listening to a musical storyteller spin yarns. But I imagine reading "Cold Mountain" comes pretty close.

This is the kind of novel that affects your mood for days and days after you've read it, that makes you feel the life passing around you is a simulacrum, and that instead the intense fictional lives you've read about are real.

And I'll confess. Unlike the end of "The Bridges of Madison County," the end of Cold Mountain did make me cry.

MOSS-COANE: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "Cold Mountain" by Charles Frazier.

Dateline: Marty Moss-Coane, Philadelphia
Guest:
High: A review of Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain."
Spec: Literature; Culture; Lifestyle; Authors; Entertainment
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Charles Frazier
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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