Laleh Khadivi’s The Walking began as a meditation on migration, all kinds of migration, bird, whale, antelope, fish and human… The Writer asked her how she got started:
In the months I spent trying to center myself in this book I thought a lot about migration, all kinds of migration, bird, whale, antelope, fish and human. While most of my research focused on the mass emigration of Iranians from Iran just before and after the 1979 Islamic revolution, I found myself getting distracted by the arctic tern, who travels countless miles up and down the length of the earth in its years migrations from the arctic to the equator. I thought about tawny ants that have come up from Colombia and Venezuela, to my Berkeley backyard where they walk around and gather crumbs and act as if nothing has changed. It became obvious that all life is motion and even the slowest banana slug moves. In all motion, whatever the speed and direction, there is story. Once I realized that I was writing a journey book, a book of human movement for animal needs (food, safe shelter, the ability to procreate safely) the horizon of the story became illuminated and I began to write in its direction, moving myself forward with words.
Where did your characters come from?
I am writing a trilogy and so Saladin, the main character of The Walking, is the son of the protagonist from my first book (The Age of Orphans). This gave me some background on him and what he was going to be about, but I wanted to ensure that he was a new generation of man, vastly different from his father, and in a constant state of rejection of his inheritance. Things became interesting when the plot of the book makes it apparent that you cannot reject your inheritance, no matter how far away you run from it.
What did you do when the going got tough?
At the end of my first draft I sent it off to my editor, relieved, thinking I had finished. He did not agree. He told me the book needed more characters to offer more dramatic depth. I scowled at his suggestion, but after a few weeks I realized that for Saladin to be alone in his travels is one way to do it and if I gave him a traveling mate, some one who wants to go the opposite direction, who wants to go back, then the journey takes on an added element of tension, of the unknown. Just as I thought I had finished, I had to go back and start again, rewriting in an entirely new character, finding a new rhythm for a book about brothers. The final product was better for it, though I will continue to scowl at my editor’s suggestions, at first.