Today, RebeccasReads is pleased to interview Anna Ilyina, who is here to talk about her new novel “Shame Heirs.”
Anna Ilyina was born in 1974, near Moscow, Russia. At age two-and-a-half, she learned to read on her own, and since then, reading has been one of her favorite occupations. At the age of seven, she began school, which she found boring. She graduated from two universities, where she studied with great pleasure, and she earned a Ph.D. in Engineering and a diploma in Linguistics. However, she has never forgotten the aphorism by Oscar Wilde: “Education is an admirable thing, but nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” For a long time, Anna worked as a technical project consultant, but then she decided to change her profession. Aside from working as a freelance technical translator, since 2003, she has been working as a translator of romances from English to Russian. To date, she has translated more than sixty-five titles.
RR: Welcome, Anna. It’s a pleasure to get to interview you today. I really like the title “Shame Heirs.” How would you summarize the book—is it fair to say it’s about how shame is passed down in a family over the generations?
Anna: Thank you for having me. “Shame Heirs” is not just about how shame is passed down in a family over the generations. It is also about how people don’t live their own lives and prefer to exist in a world of handmade images and illusions. The novel is about incomprehension and lack of understanding of a person’s destiny, about searches for love and many other things. I’m sure every reader will give his own, unique interpretation of the novel.
RR: Why did you choose “shame” over something like “guilt”? What is the shame the family feels?
Anna: The fact is that the characters don’t have guilt complexes and don’t suffer from guilt. They consider their actions to be absolutely correct. Some of them accuse others who don’t admire their talents, don’t praise their inwardness and moral virtues.
The characters are ashamed to demonstrate their real faces. Properly speaking, with every passing day they cherish the sense of their own importance, they prove their significance. But in reality they need to prove nothing to nobody, except themselves.
And besides, two types of shame can be found in the novel—false and true . The novel’s characters are tormented by false shame; true shame is beyond them, because their souls are dead. For example, Neighbour’s Boy’s mother feels ashamed of her mentally defective son (false shame), but at the same time she rejects her son cruelly and even refuses to think about him (she should feel true shame, but she can’t).
RR: What is the cause of the shame? In your promotional materials, I believe you said it has to do with the characters’ fear of love or being love-starved?
Anna: The reason of their shame is reluctance and fear to love and to be loved. Fear appears on the scene when they are eager to seem to be better than they really are.
RR: How does shame hold back the characters from living fulfilling lives?
Anna: One of the novel’s protagonists is “Monsieur.” The first subject of his confusion and shame was his father—the highly educated and gifted person who was almost a quarter of a century older than his wife. Whilst a little boy, Monsieur preferred to hide from his aged father, and he was afraid of persons of his age who could find out how old-fashioned his Papa was. Growing older, Monsieur realised his father was the cleverest and the most talented person in the world and again he was overcome with shame regarding his own inferiority. Communication with physically and mentally disturbed people gave Monsieur intolerable confusion and shame. He was very pleased when his parents left this world, being burdened with no diseases. Monsieur was just afraid of his own inability to stand their decrepit state and he dreaded to think how he would fail to stop counting their last days.
If you read the novel, you will understand that “Monsieur” and other characters are constantly forced to make a bargain with their conscience to achieve selfish ends, and they fail to find peace of mind. And, if a person can’t get on with himself, he is at odds with other people. In that case to live a fulfilling life is impossible.
RR: That’s interesting Anna. Would you give us an example of how shame relates to another of the characters?
Anna: The character, “Madam,” all her life was looking for a person who could understand her lofty ideas. She constantly met unsuitable men. One of them, “Baritone,” turned out to be a not very clever or well-educated person. She suppressed the strongest pangs of shame, trying to understand why she was so unlucky again. Madam feared what people would say about her—how a smart woman could become a lover of such an idiot—but then she realized it was impossible for her to remain without an idol, so she decided to pretend and to stay with Baritone.
RR: Do the characters also use shame to pull each other down?
Anna: Yes, they use shame to pull each other down, to humiliate those who are weaker, but they haven’t the courage to toss a challenge to somebody who can make himself useful for them.
RR: Do any of the characters escape or rise above shame so that they do end up living life fully?
Anna: As an example, Neighbour’s Boy turns out to live more or less a good life, though almost everybody considered him to be a complete idiot. But he had a flair for not being hardened in heart.
RR: As you mentioned with the characters above, such as “Monsieur,” you don’t always use names but have special nicknames for your characters, such as “A Madam, a Baritone, and a Benefactress.” What is the meaning implied by those names? Would you call your writing “allegorical” because you create character types rather than just giving them normal first names?
Anna: I’ve decided not to use normal names for the novel’s characters because they represent collective images of those people who can be found in everyday life. Yes, in my novel I’ve used allegorical figures and meaning in order to emphasize more vividly the “peacock” appearance of certain characters and their inward, spiritual shallowness.
RR: What made you decide to use French terms like “Monsieur”? Does the book have a French connection?
Anna: No French connection. French terms were used out of mere freak.
RR: What made you decide to write a story about shame?
Anna: I had never planned to write a novel. And, moreover, the novel about shame wasn’t my target. One day I just started writing a novel, that’s all. The title—“Shame Heirs”—appeared when almost half of the novel had already been written.
RR: Anna, I understand you live in Russia. What made you decide to publish a book in English (I understand your publisher is in London) and market it to an English-speaking audience? Did you write and publish it in Russian first?
Anna: The novel “Shame Heirs” has never been published in Russia or in Russian. It was first published in English by a London publisher in 2011. English is one of the dominant languages in the world. My wish to appeal to the greatest number of readers was the only reason why I decided to write in English.
RR: Have you previously published works in Russian and do you have a following of readers in Russia? Do you think you will translate “Shame Heirs” into Russian eventually?
Anna: I’ve never published my works in Russian, so I don’t have a following of readers in Russia. If a publishing house in Russia becomes interested in “Shame Heirs,” the novel will be translated into Russian. But it’s just a question of legal technicalities.
RR: Few authors, especially American ones, can write or translate in two languages. What advantages do you find that knowing more than one language has given you as a writer?
Anna: A person who has knowledge of at least one foreign language gains an advantage, regardless of his occupation. He receives the opportunity to read literature in the original, to watch movies without translation, to communicate, but also to get an insight into the psychology of people who speak a language that differs from his native one.
RR: Would you give us an example of what we would learn if we spoke Russian about the psychology of people that we may not understand as English speakers?
Anna: As a Russian I can’t give English speakers an objective opinion on this subject, but I can suggest an idea. Study Russian language and try to read in the original Russian literature, mix with Russian speakers. Any language is a well of information.
RR: How long have you known English, and what did you discover about the psychology of English speakers that was surprising to you as a Russian?
Anna: I’ve known English for a long time. As to the psychology of English speakers, in this particular case I can speak only about those English speakers who are natives of England and with their mothers’ milk imbibed traditions of their ancestors. From my personal knowledge of communicating with such people I can say they are orderly in everything.
RR: In translating so many English romances into Russian, would you say those works have influenced your writing?
Anna: No influence. All romances are stories that turn out happily; this is the law of the genre. My novel was written in a completely different style.
Somebody may find “Shame Heirs” very depressing or get the impression that the plot of the novel doesn’t move at all—“it stands still”—or it is rather thin. I wrote in such a style deliberately to lay stress on events in the history of the characters. In fact, nothing happens in their everyday life; each of their days can be characterized as “being at a stagnant swamp,” though they believe themselves to be intent on their high purposes.
RR: Was there anything about writing for an English-speaking audience that you kept in mind while writing the novel; for example, what do you think English-speaking people would find appealing in it that perhaps Russian speakers would not?
Anna: I wanted to appeal to the greatest number of readers all over the world; therefore, I decided to write in English. Representatives of different cultures and nationalities are among English speakers, so I couldn’t have created the novel for a certain group of people who speak English and kept in mind something about writing for an English-speaking audience. I hope any English speaker or Russian speaker (who knows English) will find something appealing and interesting in the novel.
Tyler: Anna, what kinds of responses have you received so far from readers of “Shame Heirs”?
Anna: Someone said the novel was too philosophical; somebody found it a thought-provoking book; someone said the novel was affluent in extremely long and incomprehensible sentences, and therefore, it was difficult to read; somebody considered the novel as solid reading. One person said that he smiled ironically whilst reading the novel, because characters reminded him of his acquaintances. Another one said he liked the allegorical comparisons I used about the child growing up with certain prejudice toward those who were different.
Tyler: Anna, what do you hope your readers will come to understand after reading your book? What response do you think would make you feel the book was successful?
Anna: I can’t but hope my novel will help everybody who wants to search his heart. If after reading “Shame Heirs,” at least one person, who is off his balance, gains an understanding of his feelings and gives up the idea to revenge or to envy, it will be the proof positive of my book’s success.
RR: Thank you, Anna, for the opportunity to interview you today about such an interesting book. Before we go, will you tell our readers where they can go online to find out more about “Shame Heirs” or to purchase a copy?
Anna: Thank you for your interesting questions. My main online presence is at my website, www.annailyina.com. There you can find a contact link; and I invite readers to feel free to get in touch with me. Moreover, there are extracts from “Shame Heirs” on my website and also there are links to online shops where readers can purchase a copy of my novel. Besides, I maintain a Twitter page under my name, http://twitter.com/#!/annailyina, to post current information.
RR: Thank you again, Anna, for the interview. I wish you much success.