Idra Novey Talks Style in “Ways to Disappear”


Idra Novey
Novey’s book explores a translator’s journey to Brazil to find the writer who she works for.

By Cassandra Sotile
Elm Staff Writer
On Sept. 7, first years flocked to Decker Theatre to hear the author of the first year book, “Ways to Disappear,” answer their burning questions.
In the novel, author Beatriz Yagoda climbs into an almond tree and disappears.  This prompts her translator, Emma Neufield, to abandon her humdrum life in Pittsburgh overnight and travel to Brazil to adopt the role of detective to find her, much to the chagrin of Beatriz’s daughter, Raquel.
Idra Novey, the book’s author, who was previously here for a reading of her poem collection “Exit, Civilian,” wrote the novel over the course of five years.  She said, “I wanted to write past what I was taught a novel was supposed to do.”  .
In addition to publishing works as an author and poet, Novey is also a translator, which she said is  “the deepest kind of reading and a way to shed your skin.”
Over the five years she was writing “Ways to Disappear,” Novey poured her life into the book.  She came back to her writing as a different person each time, bringing a new perspective with her that prompted changes within the draft.  All of her emotional memories and experiences corresponded with the plot of the book.  “You have to write what you emotionally know,” she said.  “I have never met a loan shark or been held at gunpoint, but I have been scared.  It’s the sensorial moment that leads to the moment of reckoning.”
One work that first inspired Novey to pen “Ways to Disappear” is a Portuguese novel by Clarice Lispector, “The Passion According to G.H.,” which she has since translated herself.  Another work that inspired Novey is “On Elegance While Sleeping,” written in 1925 by Argentinian poet Viscount Emilio Lascano Tegui.  It was these cultural works that inspired her to compose her novel without the use of quotation marks – much to the confusion of the students.
“Quotation marks in literature from other cultures is less common,” Novey said.  “The omission of quotation marks is also meant to cue readers in that this is not a conventional book.”
The intentional lack of quotation marks is not the solely unique stylistic element in the book.  Novey included poetic structure and form at various points throughout the book as a homage to her poetic works.  Her background in poetry also inspired the brevity of the chapters.  “To me, when chapters in a work are long, they become boring and the meaning is lost. As a poet, form creates meaning.  I wanted to make a short approach like a poet does and get to the central meaning,” Novey said.
“Ways to Disappear” is filled with different speakers and voices.  By way of dictionary definitions, emails, and radio commentary, language itself becomes a speaker.  “I really enjoyed writing this book.  After all, if writing it is no pleasure for the writer, there won’t be any pleasure for the reader,” she said.

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