Then what I've always considered to be my political awakening was the protest against the war in Vietnam, which took place in England because the British government so strongly supported the American presence in Vietnam, even though no actual troops were sent. That protest seemed also to be very closely wrapped up with the music. Traditionally the music of war is there in order to instill, in soldiers and civilians, patriotic feelings. But this was music which was much more ― I'd say, much more dissident than that. And music which was simply affirming love during a time of death.
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, for all its range of reference and mythological underpinnings, is a very American novel.
The country that has mattered the most to me with this book has been the US. It should be well received here, and I'm happy to say that it has been, if only because it's my first American novel. I mean, not just because a lot of it happens in America, but because rock and roll is a thing that came from America. And so one of the things that I was writing about was how the rest of the world has responded to American culture, and how America has responded to the rest of the world. That's one of the kind of ― the under-themes of this novel.
It seems like a logical step in your westward progression that we alluded to earlier. If I were to try to boil 575 pages down to a sentence, it would be this: you can kill the musician, but you can't kill the music.
Yes. I mean, I think of the end of the Orpheus myth, in which the head of Orpheus, having been torn from his body, is thrown into the river and goes on singing. That's the meaning of that story. You can destroy the singer, but you can't stop the song. And I think for fairly obvious reasons, that's an important thought for me to have and to hold on to. The durability of art and the paradoxical fragility ― that was the message, that was the thing that I wanted people to take away from the book.
In Midnight's Children, your hero is born at the inception of India's independence. The Ground Beneath Her Feet begins on Valentine's Day 1989, as did your exile. Surely there is a message here?
It's really a very simple thing, and what I should say is that, of all the things in this novel, it was the thing I was most uncertain of. I vacillated a great deal about whether to leave that date in or not. There was a bit of me that thought it was digging the reader in the ribs too hard to leave it in. In the end I did, simply because I thought, well, one of the reasons I'm writing a novel about cataclysms in people's lives, about earthquakes, about the fact that the world is provisional and the life that you think is yours can be removed from you at any moment ― one of the reasons I'm having these ideas and writing this book is because of what happened in my life, and I may as well just acknowledge the fact.