Jason Goodwin is a man of parts. He is a historian trained at Cambridge University, a tea connoisseur, a prodigious hiker, a gardener, a cook, the author of well regarded nonfiction books, and a prize winning writer of literary crime fiction. He has wit, he has a deft touch with plot and a singular gift to create characters so vivid it ias impossible to forget them. His sleuth, the eunuch Yashim Togalu, whom critic Janet Maslin of The New York Times calls “a gumshoe in Turkish slippers” is engaging. So are his friends, Zubrowka tippling Polish ambassador Stanislaw Palewski and a supporting cast that includes a transvestite dancer, a Greek grocer, and a dour concierge.
Goodwin’s sleuth Yashim is a fascinating blend of investigator, philosopher and aesthete. He moves in the opulent setting of Ottoman Istanbul–a historic territory Goodwin knows well–with ease of an insider at the sultan’s royal court. Yet for all his intimate chats with the sultan’s French mother, who lends him books by Stendahl and Balzac, he sees court life with the keen eyed perception of those on the margin of a stratified society.
That his gender or lack thereof excludes him from a higher post at court does not keep Yashim from being the heartbeat of stories critics have compared with a an enchanting ride on a magic carpet. The majority of Amazon readers commenting on these stories say that they are “fascinating, breathtaking, transporting, full of life, well portrayed, absolutely amazing.”
Richtexts is honored to share some of Goodwin’s thoughts with its readers.
1.What is the greatest challenge you face as a writer?
Amusing myself. Unless you’re having some sort of fun while you write – with words, with scenes, with characters – the chances are it’s not going to come off.
2.How do you define failure and success?
I’m wary of that way of thinking: it’s not over until it’s over, is it?
3.What is the truest sentence you know?
Plato says that things are better taken care of than we can possibly imagine.
4. What would you be, if you were not a writer?
I’d like to be a leisurely sort of architect.
5. What is your purpose as a writer?
To inform and entertain, of course. I suppose, following on from that thought about architecture, that I try to create a space – imaginary or otherwise – that didn’t exist before. From there, I hope, readers will get a new view of familiar things.
That’s what attracts me to history and historical fiction: it’s taking the long view of human nature. If it wasn’t written down it would ultimately disappear as a source of understanding and the lessons of the past would be lost. At which point the future becomes a scary and unpredictable place.
6. What inspires you?
Cathedrals, wine and pre-war literature
7. What do you like the best and dislike the most about writing?
I like the adventure best, when you plunge off into unknown territory and gradually piece it together in your mind. I dislike the obligation to smoke.
8. Yashim, the main character in your crime fiction series, is a caring friend, a gifted linguist, an inventive lover, a capable cook, a modest man with an admirable moral code. Yet being a eunuch seems to define him. Why did you choose to create a character who can never become totally integrated into Ottoman society?
Because he comes at the society he patrols at an angle. That lets him see things that others can’t. Lots of the best detectives have that tangential relationship with their world – Sherlock Holmes, who’s all brain; Philip Marlow, who is achingly lonely; Hercules Poirot because – well, he’s Belgian for goodness’ sake. Funnily enough they’re all eunuchs, in a way.
9. Which writers do you admire the most?
Dickens, Graham Greene, Italo Calvino, PG Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler.
10. If you could choose, would you be Balzac or Camus?
I’d be Balzac, without a doubt.