Téa Obreht Reads Inland

By on Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 at 11:53 am

Téa Obreht Reads Inland

How does a novelist follow a critically acclaimed debut novel? Since publishing The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht wrote and threw away two whole novels. Disconnected from the narratives, she didn’t feel they books answered any new questions. That all changed when she heard a history podcast about the American Camel Corps. From the moment she started writing Inland she felt connected to the story.

Obreht stumbled across the background story that would become Inland listening to the podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class. The episode featured a real story of a woman trampled by a demon in Arizona, although the demon turned out to be a camel. Inland follows two narrators. Nora, a homesteading wife, haunted by the beast, and, Lurie is an immigrant from the Balkans.

“Turns out I wrote a Western, which I hadn’t expected to do,” Obreht explains. Although she was born in the former Yugoslavia, she moved around often while growing up. “Home for me has never really been tied to place,” she adds. Then she traveled to the American west. She felt a sense of homecoming there, and a sense of homesickness whenever she left it. These were odd feelings for someone without links to the region, and she wanted to interrogate the idea.

Although the story borrows from real events, Obreht says she always embellishes. It’s the way she learned to tell stories. The Balkan region has had an oral storytelling culture for a long time. “There is a great tendency to pass down family stories, and embellish on them,” she says, “We have a lot of storytellers in the family.” She jokes how she could never really be a nonfiction writer because her impulse is always to add to the story.

Téa Obreht Reads Inland with Marie-Helene Bertino

President Obama included Inland on his summer reading list. Obreht found out the morning after her book launch. She had celebrated with a late night party in Brooklyn before taking an early train to Boston. Tired from the trip, and from the late night partying, she napped in the hotel room. She woke to a bombardment of text messages–friends texting about a book on Obama’s summer book list. At first, she didn’t realize the texts were about her book. Then she finally she found the image the former President had posted on online. “It didn’t feel real at all.”

“It took me a really long time to call myself a writer in public,” she says. “I felt unworthy of the calling.”

Struggling to write a second book didn’t help with that feeling. First-time writers, before they are published, expect to work on many drafts and throw away pages, Obreht says. “Everything is about these drafts that don’t make it to the final stage–but having been published, I didn’t realize that was still an acceptable place to be in.”

Téa Obreht and Marie-Helene Bertino
Greenlight — Fort Greene
Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Previously at EKR, check out Marie Helen Bertino’s launch of 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas

English Kills Review is an online magazine covering books, authors, and writing with an emphasis on New York City. Founded in 2012, English Kills Review engages the literary community while highlighting noteworthy books and authors