Tolstoy could speak with such earnest rapture about his “unity with all people,” and even if New Guineans, Inuit, or even many Manhattanites of his time were unaware of his aspirations, he had grounds for what he said. Were a writer to make such an assertion now we’d think it a joke, or that he or she had gone hubristically mad. Even the globally famous reach only microscopic sectors of the globe. That said, those they reach can be forever altered by the experience, and the reach for sure transcends national boundaries. Often, the richest and most transformative of these connections are not confined to nation.
People often like to read about their own people, and literature is often promoted and sold and later organized in universities according to national boundaries. I never really read like that or felt that way about myself. I was born and grew up in Chicago, but had more affinity with the road, once I’d discovered it, than with my old neighborhood. I started to sense a kind of language I’d like to write in before I began to write and knew it couldn’t be applied to Chicago. I got out pretty much as soon as I could, and have since lived in Ireland, London, Spain, Singapore and Poland, where my home is now, and occasionally back in the United States. The writing I’ve done has been set in all of these places, but strangely most often in places I’ve lived in least. There are many readers and writers in this stateless or multiply stated condition. The merely national can look paltry, though, of course, to each his own.
–Born in the U.S., Timothy O’Grady has spent decades abroad, living in Ireland, England, Spain, and now Poland, in the town where Copernicus was born. He is the author of Divine Magnetic Lands: A Journey in America, and (with Kenneth Griffith) of Curious Journey: An Oral History of Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution, as well as the novels Motherland, which won the David Higham award for the best first novel in 1989, and I Could Read the Sky, which won the Encore Award for best second novel.
2paragraphs gives special thanks to Anderson Tepper for curating our International Writers Interviews. Mr. Tepper is on the staff of Vanity Fair and is a Contributing Editor at Words Without Borders.