Samuel Park’s This Burns My Heart is being called “astonishing,” “mesmerizing,” and ”a delicate yet powerful story of love, loss, and endurance.” I’d like to add own applause for this lovely first novel, which has also been named an Indie Next pick and one of Amazon’s ten best books for July. I had the pleasure of meeting Sam at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest, and am looking forward to seeing him again at BookPassage at the Ferry Building next Monday. You can see where else he’s appearing on his website. And do enjoy his evocative post below. – Meg
Growing up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I fell in love with American movies early and hard. Every afternoon, the main television network, Rede Globo, would air a program called Sessao da Tarde (Afternoon Session). Like a revival house programmed by a kitschy cinephile, Afternoon Session featured American Technicolor movies from the 50s and 60s: Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedies, musicals, or “spectacles” with cheesy special effects like The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. My favorite was a Natalie Wood comedy where she played a kleptomaniac, Penelope, who stole because she didn’t have the love of her husband.
Those movies stirred my imagination, and also my desire to write. My first magna opus, delivered at the tender age of eight, was a 5-page novel entitled “The Black Dahlia.” At that age, I knew nothing of the infamous real life Hollywood murder, or the James Ellroy novel of the same title. In my version, the title referred to a plant with magical powers, and the lucky (or unlucky) boys who came in contact with it. I wrote the words BLACK DAHLIA capitalized and underlined on the first page, like a cover. Even then I was enamored of all the things that made up the bookness of books: the title fonts, binding, illustrations.
At age fourteen, I moved to the United States, and discovered what I think may be the eighth wonder of the world: an American library. Bountiful, brimming with books, I was amazed by them. I was used to, in Brazil, to dusty, decades-old collections and severe restrictions on the number of books (and what kind of books) you could check out. Americans seemed to love books–books were everywhere, and best of all, they were free. In my ninth grade class, I marveled when Mrs. Karacsony loaned us our own hardback copies of To Kill a Mockingbird. I actually asked a classmate, “You mean we can take these home at the end of class?” In middle school in Brazil, you always had to pay for your own textbooks.
To me, writing and reading books and watching movies and going to plays and reading poems and writing have always been part of the same process. Reading makes me want to write. Watching a great story on a film screen makes me want to tell a story. I read somewhere that Dorothy Allison likes to starve herself of story—to deprive herself so much that she feels the need to create to alleviate that gap. I feel the opposite. The more story I get, the better. Like Orsino in the opening lines of Twelfth Night, asking his musicians to “give me excess of it,” I’m inspired by reading too much, being surfeited by so much language, that I feel the need to write, too.
Ironically, now that I live in the United States, I spend much of my recreational time watching Brazilian TV dramas on YouTube. My current favorite is Insensato Coracao (Imprudent Heart). Coracao is full of twists and turns, with acting by some of Brazil’s best leading ladies, like Gloria Pires and Natalia Thimberg. As an eight-year old boy, elbows full of rug burns from lying on the carpet for hours watching TV, I longed for America. Now, living in America, I long for the characters, plots, and stories of my childhood in Brazil. Except I don’t pretend my little notebooks are my “books” anymore. I’ve graduated to the real thing. The impulse, however, I think is the same: to squelch a longing for a place far away, in my own imagination. – Samuel