Elizabeth Nunez on writing Even in Paradise
The sisters in King Lear intrigued me. When Lear cries out, “I am a man / More sinned against than sinning,” there can be no doubt what he means by sinned against. His two older daughters are heartless, wicked women who threw him out of their castles and left him stranded in a storm. But what was Lear’s sin?
I have five sisters, and when we were young, we would try to trap our father into declaring which of us he loved best. Such was our need to feel special in a crowd of six daughters. We never succeeded; our father always found ways to deflect our pleas, though nevertheless reassuring us that we were each loved. Lear, however, made it clear that his youngest daughter was his joy, his favorite, and when she tells him that she would have to share her love for him with her future husband, he becomes unhinged. His bizarre behavior seals his two older daughters’ conviction that he prefers their young sister, and the seed of resentment and jealousy that had lain coiled in their hearts erupts into a poisonous, twisted plant strangling everything that hinders its growth.
Yes, their “sin” is ingratitude and greed, but it seems to me that at the heart of Shakespeare’s play is also a story about our need to be loved exclusively by our parents and the resentments that arise when we must share our parents’ love with siblings. I wanted to explore that human flaw in Even in Paradise.
Elizabeth Nunez: Even in Paradise
Thursday April 14, 2016
“Nunez is one of the finest and most necessary voices in contemporary American and Caribbean fiction.” —Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
“Nunez has always had the power to get to the essence of what makes human beings take right and wrong turns.” —Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World
Center for Fiction favorite Elizabeth Nunez returned to celebrate the release of her new novel, Even in Paradise. Taking inspiration from King Lear, Nunez explores fraught family dynamics in this beautifully written new novel.
About Even in Paradise
Peter Ducksworth, a Trinidadian widower of English ancestry, retires to Barbados, believing he will find an earthly paradise there. He decides to divide his land among his three daughters while he is alive, his intention not unlike that of King Lear who hoped “That future strife / May be prevented now.” But Lear made the fatal mistake of confusing flattery with love, and so does Ducksworth. Feeling snubbed by his youngest daughter, Ducksworth decides that only after he dies will she receive her portion of the land. In the meantime, he gives his two older daughters their portions, ironically setting in motion the very strife he hoped to prevent.
Beautifully written in elegant prose, this is a novel about greed, resentment, jealousy, betrayal, and romantic love, through which Nunez weaves themes of racism and classism in the postcolonial world of the Caribbean, giving us a diverse cast of characters of African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian/Lebanese, and English ancestry.
Elizabeth Nunez is the award-winning author of eight novels and a memoir, Not for Everyday Use, which won the 2015 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for non-fiction. Both Boundaries and Anna In-Between were New York Times Editors’ Choices. Anna In-Between won the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award and was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Nunez also received the 2011 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers and Barnes & Noble, and a NALIS Lifetime Literary Award from the Trinidad & Tobago National Library. She is a Distinguished Professor at Hunter College, CUNY, where she teaches fiction writing. She divides her time between Amityville and Brooklyn, New York. Even in Paradise is her latest novel.
*Please note that Tayari Jones, who was originally scheduled to appear, had to pull out of the event.