The Joker - A literary thriller by Elena Bruck


Q & A with Elena Bruck

Why did you write a book about surviving the Avian Flu?

I was carrying an idea of writing a book about embracing adulthood as our paths of choice narrow down and we become older – something like that – but it lacked focus until one day, when I ran into a friend, also a psychiatrist living in Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan where I lived at the time. 

For some reason my friend mentioned the threat of the Avian Flu and the devastation it might cause, and then I knew that this was what I wanted to write about. I was always fascinated with disaster situations, especially those that happen in enclosed environments – such as Robinson Crusoe or Lost. Stuyvesant Town became the setting.

Why didn’t you start with the Pandemic right away?

If the novel started with the Pandemic, the subtleties of people’s lives would be lost, stripped of individuality. Disasters provoke inbuilt, animalistic reactions where people’s everyday struggles wouldn’t be interesting to the reader. 

Whereas if you get to know the characters, their loves, dreams, fears, -- then you know what they are losing once the disaster strikes, and what shapes their choices.

Why did you name your book The Joker?

The Joker is a wild card, fate, fear. As Anna’s prophecy surfaces early in the book, the question of fate becomes an important part of narrative: Are we the makers of our destiny? 

Living with uncertainty is after all part of being human: Not knowing where we are going, searching for answers, fearing the worst, hoping for the best, trying to overcome our inherent blindness and growing up in the process. 

And then, in the midst of your common unhappiness, the real Joker comes and confronts you with death.

How did you become a writer?

I wrote since age seven, first stories a la Tom Sawyer, then an amalgam of pirate novels and Alexander Dumas with lots of fencing, horses and romantic unrequited love. As a teenager I wrote poems. 

Later, as a medical student in Vienna I wrote nothing for a while exploring the world in German. After moving to New York, I wrote a novel in Russian and some short stories in both Russian and English.

Was it hard for you to switch languages?

I found that a need to write lends itself to another language easier than I thought. 

Of course it was challenging at first to write in English instead of my native Russian, especially with small details of life absorbed in childhood that make us part of a generation bound to certain places and roots. 

This explains why so many characters in my book are Russian.

Being a doctor, when do you find time to write?

It’s not easy, especially now that I have two kids, an eight year-old son and a three year-old daughter. 

When I don’t write, I listen to people’s stories, which is what my profession as a psychiatrist is all about. 

What authors or books do you like and admire?

There are so many. Right now I am finishing “Revolutionary Road” by R. Yates and loving it. 

In recent years, I admired Saramago’s “Blindness”, “The History of Love” by N. Krauss, Coetzee’s “Disgrace”, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by M. Chabon, Eugenides’ “Middlesex,” “The Plague of Doves” by L. Erdrich. 

Of Russian authors: Dostoyevsky (Especially “Brothers Karamazov”), Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov, Mandelstam, Bulgakov.

What are you working on now?

I began writing a story about a boy whose mother dies and he ends up in foster care. He begins having visions and discovers a sporadic ability to see the future. 

I also have a couple of ideas inspired by my recent reading of Sana Krasikov’s “One More Year” about the lives of Russian emigrants in New York.

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"made it moment" on Jenny Milchman's blog !