WRITTEN BY: ZURI HOFFMAN
On Thursday March 10, authors Helen Oyeyemi and Alvaro Enrigue came to Parkway Central Library as a part of the Author Events the free library holds weekly. Both speakers talked about their newest books What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours and Sudden Death.
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is Oyeyemi’s sixth novel, which is composed of conjoined stories displaying strong themes through figurative and literal language. Her writing style and use of metaphors was a heavy topic of conversation throughout the short panel, which took a more conversational turn between the two authors.
Enrigue asked Oyeyemi, “But is it your impression that the organization of your book is woven in a way in which the stories look as if the main character is there and then two pages after that you just switch the point of view and the story moves in a different direction, so it works like a spiral. And then you get to a moment when we see the real main character of the story and it becomes turbulent. I was wondering if you were planning that or you were just writing?” Oyeyemi answered, “I think it was the interference of the keys that made it like that. There was something about the keys that required a certain unlocking, and then the characters would disappear which has a lot to do with the ducking behind closed doors.”
Sudden Death is Enrigue’s first novel translated to English, which is fictional, but explores a historical event, using dark comedy and metaphorical ideas that translate throughout the novel. Enrigue’s unique metaphor of tennis was also a key point of the panel.
“Reading it, I started off thinking, oh this is a book about tennis, then I thought oh this is a book about history and then I thought oh this is a book about fiction,” Oyeyemi said. “It kept changing and changing, but all three things kind of layer on top of each other. I was wondering if tennis started off as a metaphor for fiction and history?”
Enrigue was delighted to answer his fellow author’s question.
“I see the book as the story of 3 objects, the book tells the story of a tennis ball and the story of a scapulary. And then at the end of the book will appear an object that will unite all of them. It is not that this is a story about history or about tennis, it is in a language that the objects are treated like characters,” Enrigue said.
Besides book promotion, the theme of the panel was centered on both authors’ unique writing styles. The event coordinator Andy Kahn announced at the beginning of the panel, “The reason I brought you two together and thought you’d be such a good match is because you both have a tendency to push the envelope in your writing. You don’t worry about some conventions which I think can constrain typical narrative.”
Speaking to attendees Jennie Turner and Kim Racon, Ms. Turner said, “I thought both authors were very charming and intriguing. I thought their writing styles were very intriguing. I haven’t read either of them before so now I am very interested to.” Ms. Racon added, “I think they also compliment each other very well, it was very conversational, it felt like you were sitting with them as they were having coffee.”
Around 60 people showed up to the event, speaking with event coordinator Kahn following the panel he says, “We always hope for more people here, but given that it is his [Alvaro Enrigue] first novel in English and Helen is well established – but still a growing writer – for writers of this stature I think it was a terrific event.”
The author events take place weekly at the Parkway Central Library, and the overall goal of these events is to keep the libraries a part of Philadelphia culture, as well as to simply bring great writers to Philadelphia.