About The Author
Rebecca Dinerstein is the author of Lofoten, a bilingual English-Norwegian collection of poems. She received her BA from Yale and her MFA in Fiction from New York University, where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.
Set mostly in Lofoten, an archipelago of six tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, Rebecca's debut, The Sunlit Night, is a lyrically told tale of love and family and finding your way home.
Below, exclusively for Foyles, Rebecca talks about her love of the Arctic Circle, making love to life and the inspiration behind her fictional Gregoriov Bakery.
Autor photograph © Nina Subin
Questions & Answers
The north Norway setting of Lofoten, just 95 miles from the Arctic Circle, is magical. Was that the starting point of your novel, could it ever have been set anywhere else?
My novel actually started with the Gregoriov Bakery in Brooklyn—I’ve been writing about the Gregoriov characters for ten years. I knew I wanted to challenge Yasha by bringing him out of that setting and into a less comfortable terrain, so when in 2009 I travelled to the Artic Circle, I began expanding his story northward. In an earlier version of the novel, his journey included several other countries: Ireland, Italy, and Sweden. Ultimately, it became important to limit his journey to New York, Russia, and Norway.
What was it about the Far North that attracted you? How do you reconcile your experience of living there for a year with your life in Brooklyn?
It’s so clean, and wild, and illuminated. Even in the winter, when the sun doesn’t rise, the snow over every surface manages to reflect what little light there is, and that dimmer winter light is full of extraordinary colors. Living there gave me an opportunity to quiet down, work, read, learn a language, and admire a landscape unlike any I’d seen. I’ve taken some of that stillness and sense of rapture home with me to Brooklyn, where the light is also beautiful.
Despairing that his medical drawings never actually get looked at, Frances’ father says: ‘What does it matter if you do what you love, if what you love doesn’t matter?’ Do you agree?
I think it’s very unlikely that something one loves doesn’t matter. That’s the fallacy in Frances’s father’s statement. Work done with devotion and skill becomes significant, regardless of audience—the mistake is to confuse recognition with worth.
Frances thinks ‘one must want to make love to life’ but is this something that must be learned: Yasha had to retreat from life temporarily in order to regain his appetite for living.
Even in his exhaustion, despair, and solitude, I think Yasha is hungry for life. That’s why he and Frances connect, despite the unromantic occasion of their meeting. Yasha at a certain point must re-evaluate what kind of love he wants from life, but the basic urge never leaves him.
Yasha’s mother is a huge larger-than-life figure, breezing loudly and carelessly through life. Was she modelled on anyone in particular?
She is pure fiction! I enjoyed creating her from scratch: her character pushed me to consider wilder and more villainous actions than I’d ever written before. Her abandon gives the plot a great deal of its energy.
Yasha’s father’s Brooklyn bakery is lovingly described. It’s a lovely symbol for the immigrant experience of making something out of nothing, but does the Gregoriov bakery have a particular resonance for you?
My grandmother moved from Romania to Brighton Beach, so the bakeries in that neighbourhood were a major feature of my childhood. I remember visiting them every weekend to pick out certain rye loaves and vanilla cookies she liked. The fragrances and atmospheres of those stores came first to mind when I wanted to write something I knew well.
Do you more closely resemble her or her more reserved son?
The resonances are inverted: as a child, I more closely resembled Yasha’s mother—I played piano, I was terribly theatrical; but as an adult I have grown to more closely resemble her meditative son. I feel I resemble both, and neither!
Both Frances and Yasha are victims of their parents’ misjudgements. Did you see this as particularly defining them or is it true of every parent-child relationship, whether in fiction or life?
It must be true of every relationship, to a certain extent. Yasha and Frances experience particularly extreme discord. Perhaps it has less to do with misjudgement and more to do with growth and individuation.
Do you have more fiction planned and, if so, will you be able to write it in Brooklyn or will you need to return to Lofoten or perhaps find another inspirational location?
I love writing in Brooklyn—I find it easy to get work done within a routine that also includes the presence of friends and the city’s many diversions—but as I begin my next project, I expect I will venture out of town to gather a few initial impressions. I like writing in the city, but I don’t necessarily like writing about the city. My next novel, at this stage, is set in an American forest environment.
Who are the writers that inspire you, that you return to time and again?
Charlotte Brontë, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Halldór Laxness, Louise Glück, Robert Penn Warren, and many others.