My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

My ebook
Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
and Sumba, Indonesia
" is available at
this link

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Interview with Michelle Granas; Author of "Zaremba, or Love and the Rule of Law"

Book description: In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a life of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics. Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba is implicated in terrorist activities and disappears, Cordelia is painfully uncertain if she has been abandoned and must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth.

This is a story about love between a man and woman, but also love of family, country, and justice. Although set in Poland, where the CIA had a black site, it is a story that could happen anywhere, in a world where young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray.

Shivaji: Tell us something about your background and what inspired you to write this novel

In addition to being a writer, I am also a translator and often work on texts about international law, foreign policy, or sociology. I am American, but have been living with my family in Poland for many years. Some time ago, when Lech Kaczynski was president and his twin brother was prime minister, the government appeared to be extending its power in improper ways. These occurrences joined a worrying trend by America - and the international community - increasingly to ignore international laws and human rights that had previously seemed unassailable (outwardly, at least). It seemed clear to me that smaller countries might follow the lead of more powerful ones, and that given the tentacles of US agencies, 'security' activities could form an excuse to get rid of inconvenient persons or to settle scores. (And the CIA did have black sites in Poland and elsewhere and engaged in kidnapping in European countries). In 2007, events had become worrisome enough that my husband - who loves Poland - had begun to wonder whether we might have to leave the country. The idea for the novel came to me in the autumn of 2007 and I wrote most of the first part without knowing how the elections in that year would play out. (The Kaczynskis' party lost.)     

Shivaji: Your book in essence is a cautionary tale about government overreach. In the last few years, we have been hearing more and more such stories: NSA snooping for instance. Should we really be concerned? After all, the message out there is that all this is being done for our own good.

Well, I think of my book primarily as a love story between two rather unusual characters. But it is also about government abuse of power. The point is that when power is unchecked, it will inevitably extend into the lives of innocent people. We know this from history and human psychology. Every totalitarian or authoritarian regime claims to be acting for the good of the people, and for their security from outside threats. These are claims that should instantly ring alarm bells. American and UK governments continually trumpet the dangers of terrorism within their countries, but when the claim is investigated the threat disappears. Consider for instance, the number of Americans killed by terrorists last year: far fewer than were killed by policemen, fewer than were killed by falling furniture, miniscule numbers in comparison with random gun deaths, traffic accidents, or influenza, anyway. The American government knows this, so why is it putting in place enormous mechanisms of control and secrecy to deal with a comparative non-issue?

Yes, we should be very worried by the activities of security agencies, including the NSA. Investigations (by the Senate Intelligence Committee, for instance) have shown that their spying has not contributed to preventing any terrorist acts. However, the possibilities for using private information about citizens to control a population should be obvious and very frightening. How can journalists write their stories, lawyers communicate with their clients, or ordinary people speak to their acquaintances without fear that their words might someday be used against them -- because of their politics, or their preferences, or for no reason at all -- in devastatingly harmful ways? We already know what can happen to journalists who object to American policies. Unless we all speak out and make our objections to surveillance clear, the bar of allowable speech will eventually lower until we are all silenced.

Shivaji: As your novel also shows, getting a hyper-sensitive media to react in one's favour has become very important to win the battle. And the hyper-sensitive media has an addiction for stunts. Is it the only way left to fight for justice?

No. I think one of the very encouraging trends of recent years is the degree to which ordinary citizens have been able to come together to produce change or stop an injustice simply by adding their name to a petition, sending emails, or standing in a square. The internet has made it possible for many more people to become aware of what's happening in the world and to participate in shaping events. But we all have to make our voices heard - if only by making that click of the mouse - for justice, and peace, and a better world. 

Shivaji: In many authoritarian countries, we are also seeing how governments act in response to majority opinion. Whether in China, Central Asia, or South East Asia, the government scrupulously tracks the flow of public opinion and reacts accordingly. Whether it is anti-gay legislations in Nigeria, or Sharia law for non-Muslims in Aceh province of Indonesia; what chance do minority rights or individual rights have in such a context? 

The only chance that individual rights have is if all of us who are aware of their importance work to spread this idea to others: If anyone's rights can be violated, it means that yours can be too; the rights that protect one person protect everyone. In short, the security of the majority lies in the security of the minority. The alternative is a society where no one is free and dissenters are severely repressed (as once in Eastern European communist countries) or situations of civil strife and violence (as we are seeing in many parts of the world today). 

The recent events in Ukraine have shifted fault lines. In a way, the context of your novel was also an outcome of a similar shifting of fault lines when Poland was trying to extract itself from the Russian sphere. Poland turned vindictive; digging out deep corners of it's past to vilify individuals. Will Ukraine or other East European countries tread the same path or was it a uniquely Polish inevitability?

I don't think anything is inevitable. Authoritarian practices or regimes can be brought down by non-violent action, and democracies won't stay democracies unless their citizens are vigilant.

Poland teetered for a while toward authoritarian practices, but then righted itself, and is today a healthy democracy, I would say. Hungary embarked on a similar course toward improper state control and is having more trouble. Russia, after the downfall of communism, never attained real democracy. I do not know what will happen in Ukraine; one sympathizes very strongly with the Ukrainians' desire for change, and hopes that in the process the rights and wishes of Ukraine's minorities are not disregarded. 

No comments: