By Heart is a series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature.
Is a writer obligated to address the way that powerful institutions affect how we live and what we feel? Or is it enough to conjure life on the scale of garden, bed, and kitchen table?
Bob Shacochis, author of The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, is more qualified than most to answer these questions, to sort out the relationship between what he calls “the literature of political experience” versus “the literature of domestic experience.” For years, he wrote the “Dining In” column for GQ—short, wistful celebrations of the meals prepared and shared with a beloved woman. (He collected these essays, which include recipes, in a book aptly titled Domesticity.) But Shacochis’s fiction, and his globe-trotting work as a New Journalism-influenced reporter and war correspondent, focus on the way large political, economic, and social forces can shape human relationships. In a recent interview with NPR, Shacochis said that his primary goal as a novelist—besides writing good sentences—was to “to try to make Americans have a more visceral feeling about how America impacts everybody in the world.”
The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, Shacochis’s latest novel, does exactly this. Opening in 1990s Haiti—a period he chronicled in The Immaculate Invasion, about the seventh-month American intervention, “Operation Uphold Democracy”—the book traces U.S. operations abroad in the decades leading up to the War on Terror. The novel’s titular (and fallen) heroine is an American spy whose history, a tale of great promise and compromised ideals, reflects the troubled legacy of our country’s operations abroad. Shacochis also authored Easy in the Islands, which won the National Book Award for first fiction, and other books; he teaches in the MFA program at Florida State University.