Monday, November 17, 2008

Profile: Porochista Khakpour

Photo by Christine Taylor from the JHU article.

ot all of my writing assignments have to do with design. Here is a link to a feature of mine that just came out in the November issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine about novelist (and JHU alum) Porochista Khakpour.

OK, there are a few passages that delve a bit into cities. Khakpour wrote the novel after 9/11. (Xerxes is one of the key characters in her book, Sons and Other Flammable Objects):

"Khakpour writes vividly about the aftermath of 9/11—not the well-traveled text of politics, loss, war, and Iraq—but the more insidious, psychological impact of that day, the anxiety that heightens 'when the news had some new tidbit to dash like extra oil onto an already burning skillet.' A description of Xerxes getting trapped in a stalled and crowded subway car reveals the muffled, interior turmoil unique to this particular time in an American city, that great backdrop to the private panic attack. 'Eventually it got moving again and once out and back up and in the New York air, Xerxes, like a spring, bounced back into form—that was what New York did to you, you were Gumby, you were superhuman, you could forgive and forget, because if you could take it there, you could take it anywhere—and like the rest of the residents of the island, he forgot moments like those enough to take it from day to day.'"

And then later in the piece, more on the anxiety of the American city during the post-9/11 Bush-era :

"Sons is, at its core, the story of the elusive American dream, a story as familiar and symbolic as that green light at the end of Daisy's dock. Whereas Jay Gatsby was in search of status in the roaring '20s, Xerxes, it could be said, is in search of stability, that all-too-slippery quality in this shifting American reality, a quality that seemed particularly out of reach in a place like New York at the dawn of the new millennium and continues to haunt the country today. Xerxes wonders if he is having some kind of a breakdown, and his personal anxiety speaks to the larger anxiety of the time. There was the crashing, literal and terrifying, followed by a slow-moving domino effect of other crashes: war, housing markets, financial sectors, international repute. The fissures of this Iranian-American family, extrapolated, represent the fissures within American culture itself. The story reflects the desire to seek and inhabit a place we consider home in this widening global community, and the fear of threats coming to our door."

I wrote this piece earlier in the fall, and it is incredible to re-read it now in the days following the election. During my interview, Porochista and I talked a lot about politics. She was campaigning for Obama in Pennsylvania and she pointed out that the bulk of her twenties were given over to the anxiety of the Bush years. I began to fully recognize how numb we'd all been, how impotent we all felt. 8 years. Gone. It was a long haul. And now we can begin the process of—as Obama said last night on 60 Minutes—"regain[ing] America's moral stature in the world."