Abbigail N. Rosewood was born in Vietnam, where she lived until the age of twelve. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. An excerpt from her first novel won first place in the Writers Workshop of Asheville Literary Fiction Contest. She lives in New York City. Visit her on the web at https://www.abbigailrosewood.com/. Connect with her
Q & A with Abbigail Rosewood
A&RBC: If I Had Two Lives tells the story of a young girl who has to confront issues of identity, alienation, abandonment as she tries to make a life in a new country. What inspired you to write this story?
AR: I don’t think I was so much inspired as I was possessed⎯I was at a point when I was finally ready to use words as a means to construct emotional truths, difficult truths. The novel, as challenging as it was to write, is to me like a wish: a coherent, metaphorically consistent, emotionally logical narrative with a beginning, middle, and ending. A wish because life isn’t so neatly packaged and perhaps more metaphorically messy. In writing it, I was able to reframe the story from a young girl perspective even though everything that swirls around her is less than the ideal girlhood, dark, violent, disorienting. The perspective of a girl, especially one unnamed, is often dismissed. Here, everything is filtered through her eyes. The second half of the novel is set in New York, where she ends up. This part was also exciting for me to write because I knew most Americans associate Vietnam with the Vietnam war, and I wanted to offer something different. Vietnam and Vietnamese people have lives and experiences that go beyond a single historical event. It was important for me to break out of this predetermined framework.
A&RBC: Where did you get the idea for this novel?
AR: It would be dishonest for me to pinpoint exactly where my ideas come as the creative process can be elusive and hard to describe. Other artists have done it better than I ever could, but I think my taste is my guidance. One of my favorite movies is Pan’s Labyrinth, which follows a young girl’s perspective, or really, her imagination, as she navigates a landscape full of human horror, war, violence, child abuse, the loss of a parent, etc. Through her the viewer witnesses the unfolding of a dark fairy tale. I think children who have lived through violence, in many ways have never had the luxury of being children, but they also can’t help but be children. Their imagination helps them cope and is also a way for them to reclaim the narrative, to make sense of all the terrible and nonsensical things in the adult world.
A&RBC: Are any of the experiences of the main character pulled from your own life?
AR: My novel is an amalgamation of factually accurate information, the unreliability of my own memory, creative freedom, a good amount of psychosis, and that magical elixir that transforms madness into art.
A&RBC: What kind of research did you have to do for this novel?
AR: The short answer is none. The long one is everything I’ve read, loved, hated, have contributed to who I’ve become as a writer.
A&RBC: Your book focuses on a number of different female relationships, including a complicated mother/daughter relationship and female friendships. Why was it important to showcase those relationships in your novel?
AR: I’m fascinated by female relationships, their mythic quality, complexity, and the fact that most of them involved unresolved grief. I think the best literary male friendships are also very feminine. In my novel, I was also interested in exploring the juxtaposition between what is typically deemed as masculine⎯a military compound, soldiers, etc. and the more feminine energy⎯a girl going bra-fitting, her first masturbation, etc. These opposing forces sharing the same space create a delightful effect that could potentially subvert expectations.
A&RBC: One of the themes in your book is grappling with the past. Why do you feel it’s important for people to confront their memories and history?
AR: I actually think so much of the world’s problems originate from our inability to acknowledge our shadow, our darkness, our refusal to reflect. So many of the world leaders, past and present, have created havoc for humanity because they need to prove their self-worth by accumulating wealth and power. If we don’t grapple with our memories and our history and try to understand our own darkness, then our shadow will end up taking precedence. Free-will is not doing whatever we like or having knee-jerk reactions. Free-will is knowing precisely why we act the way we do.
A&RBC: Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from your novel?
AR: I hope for my novel to challenge, entertain, delight. But perhaps more than anything, I would feel successful if someone somewhere reads a line and feels its truth whether or not they can relate to it.
A&RBC: How and where can readers purchase If I Had Two Lives?
AR: Everywhere books are sold. I recommend supporting your local independent bookstores.
A&RBC: What else are you working on now?
AR: I’m editing the last draft of my second novel and starting my next project.
ABOUT THE BOOK
This luminous debut novel, which has earned impressive early reviews from media including The New Yorker, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Foreword Reviews, follows a young woman from her childhood in Vietnam to her life as an immigrant in the United States – and her necessary return to her homeland.
As a child, isolated from the world in a secretive military encampment with her distant mother, she turns to a sympathetic soldier for affection and to the only other girl in the camp, forming two friendships that will shape the rest of her life.
As a young adult in New York, cut off from her native country and haunted by the scars of her youth, she is still in search of a home. She falls in love with a married woman who is the image of her childhood friend, and follows strangers because they remind her of her soldier. When tragedy arises, she must return to Vietnam to confront the memories of her youth – and recover her identity.
An inspiring meditation on love, loss, and the presence of a past that never dies, the novel explores the ancient question: Do we value the people in our lives because of who they are, or because of what we need them to be?
Publisher: Europa Editions
Release Date: April 9, 2019