Article published on February 12, 2016.
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Imagine your son keeps asking for his mother – but it’s not you he wants…
Noah is four and wants to go home. The only trouble is he’s already there.
Janie’s son is her world, and it breaks her heart that he has nightmares. That he’s terrified of water. That he sometimes pushes her away and screams that he wants his real mother. That it’s getting worse and worse and no one seems to be able to help. In desperation, she turns to someone who might have an answer – but it may not be one she’s ready to hear. It may also mean losing the one thing she loves more than anything. Noah.
A novel that spans life, death and everything in between, The Forgetting Time tells an unforgettable story – about Noah, about love, and, above all, about the things we hold onto when we have nothing else.
nb/nudge reviewer Maddy Broome read an early copy of The Forgetting Time and was impressed – read her review here. She had some questions for author Sharon Guskin.
I thought this was a very confident first novel. Did your career in film documentaries help you when it came to tackling fiction?
Thanks! I learned a lot about storytelling from my work in film. For STOLEN, a documentary I worked on about the biggest art heist in American history, we really had a ton of elements to juggle: Isabella Stewart Gardner (the heiress who founded the Gardner Museum, where the robbery occurred); various thieves and informants, the charismatic art detective on the case, Vermeer — it was a real puzzle to solve, figuring out how to tell that story, and I think it gave me the courage to take on this novel with its disparate characters.
What inspired you to choose re-incarnation as the theme for this novel?
When my children were young, I worked for a while as a hospice volunteer. And that question — what happens next? — became intensely real for me for the first time. Then a friend gave me a copy of OLD SOULS, a book about a researcher and professor, Dr. Ian Stevenson, who was studying these cases of very young children who seemed to remember living before, with specific details about these other lives — details which Stevenson and his team were able to corroborate. And I was fascinated by these cases — almost 3,000 of them — and started to wonder why my children came out the way they did, with their particular fears and predilections. A story started to percolate about this single mom whose four year old seemed to be remembering a previous life and the journey this very skeptical woman undertakes to help her son.
Did your views on it change in any way through your research and writing of the novel?
I was simply curious when I began — I thought the cases were very startling and would make a good novel. But after steeping myself in this research for a while, and meeting Dr. Jim Tucker, who is continuing the work with young children and is one of the most reasonable and conscientious people you’ll ever meet — I started to think, what if it’s true? Maybe it’s true…probably it’s true. And so I started exploring the question from a personal standpoint — how should I live my life, if I might be born again? And I’m still answering these questions for myself. But ultimately, as a novelist, I’m just asking questions: What if it’s true? What would that mean?
Which character came to you first, Noah, Janie or Dr Anderson?
Anderson came first, since he was inspired by Dr. Stevenson (though he’s very different). Dr. Tucker read the novel not too long ago and mentioned that he thought I’d caught something of Dr. Stevenson’s spirit, and that was one of my happiest moments as a writer.
The novel is written in several voices. Did you always intend to structure it this way?
I knew there would be a mother and a scientist; some of the other voices, though, such as Denise and her family and the character of Paul, surprised me. They just showed up. I’m grateful that they did.
You have characters of varying ages, backgrounds and race. Which (if any) character’s voice did you find hardest to get right?
Oddly enough, the one who seems to be the most similar to me: Janie, the Brooklyn mom. She wasn’t so appealing or convincing, initially; I think she was a bit too much in her head, as I tend to be. I had to really work hard to make her personality and ways of thinking very different from mine, to make her a fully formed character. Her love for her son, though: that part was easy.
How different was the process of writing a novel to that of writing documentaries?
Film is a collaborative medium, so you are all working together, figuring it all out, brainstorming and compromising. Since I wasn’t the director of the films I worked on, it was never ultimately my vision. With a novel, it’s just you alone in a room with your characters. I miss the collaborative aspect of film, but I also enjoy being able to create my own world.
Have many people contacted you with similar stories since the book has been published?
Many people have shared their stories with me, even though the book hasn’t come out yet (at the moment I’m writing this). I am collecting them all; if your readers have any extraordinary stories about things their children have said that might indicate a past life, or any extraordinary stories that changed the way they thought about how we exist, I’d love to hear them, and can post anonymously. They can email me at email@example.com or post them on my Facebook author page.
Why did you decide to have Dr Anderson suffering from aphasia?
The idea of a character losing his language while studying these children with extraordinary memories seemed rich to me, and I was also interested in how someone might have a different experience of the world without words. There’s also been semantic aphasia in my family, and I’ve seen its destructive nature and wanted to capture how difficult it could be.
What will be the subject of your next novel?
I can’t talk about it just yet. But one of the characters from The Forgetting Time is in it, though it’s not about reincarnation. That’s all I’ll say!
“Irresistible…Part mystery and part meditation on a mother’s love for her child, this clever, heartfelt book kept me turning pages long into the night.” Kate Morton
“When I wasn’t reading The Forgetting Time, I was itching to return to it. And when I was reading it, my mind was exploding with questions about what’s possible, what’s probable, and how our lives are caught between the two. Provocative, evocative, and fresh, Guskin’s book is an explosive debut” Jodi Picoult
“A beautiful tale of the bond between a mother and her young son as well as a gripping mystery . . . Reading The Forgetting Time becomes a personal journey as you try to remember all that you’ve forgotten” Diane Chamberlain
“Sharon Guskin’s debut is the literary equivalent of the sensation you get when, after stargazing from some hillside on a clear night, you’re suddenly hit with the terrifying and exhilarating scope of the unknowable. A truly remarkable, dizzying and exquisite page-turner” Téa Obreht, award winning author of The Tiger’s Wife
About the author
Sharon Guskin has degrees from Yale University and the Columbia University School of the Arts, and has worked as a writer and producer of prize-winning documentary films. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two sons. The Forgetting Time is her first novel.
The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin, published by Mantle on 11 February, 2016 in hardback at £12.99
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