Tuesday, October 3, 2023
HomeFashionMaya Binyam’s Debut Novel Is a Dryly Funny Examination of What It...

Maya Binyam’s Debut Novel Is a Dryly Funny Examination of What It Means to Go Home

I mean, it’s funny you say that, because I feel like so many books or even shorter works of fiction and nonfiction that are written about going home do often work with loneliness, but often what’s more explicit is some moment of fundamental identification and familiarity and sort of the possibility of a complete return to the person that you were before. But I do think that leaving a place is an isolating act, and in the world of the novel, the narrator entered a new country as a refugee. I was thinking a lot about that as a kind of individuating process; like, in order to be granted refuge in the U.S., someone must argue that they have belonged to some institution of collective life that’s being threatened, either by the government or by a group that the government can’t control. There are some instances in which people can argue that they, in particular, are being harmed by a gang or something like that, but in most cases, people need to argue that they belong to some collective in order to be granted refuge. Once they’re granted that refuge, though, the premise of collective life is stripped away, because you’re ultimately saving your own life, and I think that is kind of like a warping process, especially when it’s compounded by an America in which people are so incentivized to think of themselves as individuals. I do think all those things combined oftentimes make going home, whether to a home someone once lived in or an ancestral home, kind of loneliness-heightening, but that loneliness gets masked by an individualist society.

Are there books you’ve read that helped you imagine a place for this novel, or that inspired you in your writing?

One book that I reread while I was writing the first draft of Hangman was My Brother by Jamaica Kincaid, which is a memoir that she wrote about the death of her brother, who died due to complications from HIV. It’s a book that is so rife with vexed love; there’s a lot of familiarity and strangeness and intimacy and hatred in the way that she describes her relationship to her brother, and I don’t know that guilt quite plays into that as much as it does in my book, with the relationship between the narrator and his brother, but there certainly is this kind of nagging resentment that doesn’t fall away. I really looked to that book as I was trying to think about relationships [within] the family in general; I was kind of looking for family models that existed that describe these genuine and enduring bonds that people can have, even if they’ve been dislocated either by choice or by force. I also just find Kincaid’s sentences so compelling; her mode of meaning-making is so dependent on repetition, and I was really inspired by that.



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