Today is a post that is part of the book club that I co-host on Instagram, @monstersandstrangerworlds. Our December book pick was THE OYSTER THIEF by Sonia Faruqi, and we were lucky enough to be able to interview the author.
– THE INTERVIEW –
MASW: I noticed as I was reading that the merpeople’s society was very similar to ours, down to having detectives, police forces, government systems with a registry of people, and even misogyny. I found it interesting that they would have come up with the same concepts of society as the humans on land. Why did you choose to have the merpeople’s government and society so similar to ours?
SF: The underwater world bears some similarities to our world but it is also different. For instance, Coralline is an apothecary but her medical work is quite different than medicine on land, based more on natural remedies and, of course, based wholly on algae. It is worth noting that different human cultures also have things in common with one another, especially the basics – police and government – so it is not surprising to have these in the water. Misogyny is not a value of merpeople; just as some humans are misogynistic and others are not, it is the same in the water. There is a diversity of perspectives.
MASW: After reading the behind the scenes look that is provided in The Oyster Thief, it sounds like you spent a lot of time researching for this novel, how long did you spend researching to be able to write this book? And as you did your research did you have to change any of your big ideas for the story like you had to change skin tone plans due to the lack of light in the ocean?
SF: The research was continuous and woven in before and during the writing. I didn’t have to change the big ideas much but was able to add more depth to the existing ideas. For instance, all the animals and algae you’ll see mentioned in The Oyster Thief are true-to-life. Even the names of all the characters are scientifically grounded, drawn from the sea and the stars. The Oyster Thief is also current in its themes. For instance, the book contains a premise of underwater diamond mining that was fictional when I started the book but has recently become fact.
MASW: There is a sexual assault that happens in the book just as Izar and Coraline are starting their journey. For me, I felt like all it did was allow Izar to be the hero when he saved her, its very reminiscent of rape culture that we have now. Why did you feel it was important to have this scene in the book?
Coralline has never left home before, and there are real consequences of going to dangerous places swarming with shady people, such as Hog’s Bristle. In addition, sexual assault is a real issue human society is contending with. With regard to the story, Hog’s Bristle is a growth experience for Coralline – she overcomes her fear of wielding daggers and becomes more self-reliant. It is true that Izar saves her in that scene but, shortly after, she has the confidence to save him. The Oyster Thief is not a “damsel in distress” story; she saves him at least as often as he saves her!
MASW: There are quite a few female characters in this novel, Coraline, Rhodomela, Abalone, and Rosette, and yet none of them are healthy relationships. There is a lot of women on women hating in this book, especially between Rhodomela and Abalone, and Coraline and Rosette, constantly competing for the male in questions attention. Why did you have the female characters interact like this and what kind of message do you think that sends to the reader?
SF: A lot of behavior stems from fear and love. Abalone’s criticisms of her daughter Coralline stem from her love of Coralline combined with her fear that Coralline will have a difficult life if she chooses to be different. Rosette’s behavior stems from her love of Ecklon and her fear that he will choose Coralline over her. Fear and love are emotions that fuel us all, for better or for worse.
MASW: At the end of the book, Izar is still keeping secrets from Coraline, even though they are in love and happy together, are you setting us up for a sequel?
SF: It is possible there will be a sequel, yes!
MASW: What inspired the story?
I love the water and the idea of an underwater civilization of merpeople.
MASW: Have you written previous works before The Oyster Thief?
SF: Yes, Project Animal Farm (2015), a work of critically acclaimed investigative journalism about the global food system. The book was selected as a finalist for three literary awards and was endorsed by Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, Temple Grandin, and CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey.
One night, I arrived at the doorstep of a dairy farm looking for a rural volunteer vacation. I had no idea then that the visit would mark the beginning of a journey that would ultimately wind all the way around the world. Concerned by issues of animal welfare and the environment, I decided to search the planet for solutions. My journey took me from egg warehouses in Canada to dairy feedlots in the United States, from farm offices in Mexico to lush green fields in Belize, from villages in Indonesia to bustling cities in Malaysia.
Over the course of living with farmers, hitchhiking with strangers, and risking my life, I developed surprising insights and solutions—both about the food industry and myself. You can find the prologue and first chapter here.
– AUTHOR BIO –
Sonia Faruqi pushes the boundaries of imagination in her debut novel, The Oyster Thief, an underwater fantasy novel for adults and young adults with themes of ocean conservation. The Globe and Mail has chosen it as a “best book of the year.” The full first chapter can be found here. Sonia will be providing exclusive content about The Oyster Thief through her website and monthly newsletter at www.soniafaruqi.com. She is also the author of Project Animal Farm, a work of critically acclaimed investigative journalism about the world’s food system.
Thank you again for those of you who are participating in our monthly book club, and for Sonia Faruqi who kindly answered these questions.
– Hannah (@thewellreadfox), Hannah (@booknerdnative), Alisa (@worldswithinpages), and Lorna (@fictionalflowerday)