Episode 59 - Zaina Arafat
Zaina Arafat's award-winning debut novel, You Exist Too Much, features one of the most interesting characters I've read all year. The novel's protagonist is a young, Palestinian American woman who's bisexual. She has a combustible relationship with her mother who's abusive. Throughout the novel, Zaina never reveals the protagonist's name, a nod to the fact that the character's mother tells her, "You exist too much."
"Another way for her to exist less was to just literally have no name and to exist less on the page," said Zaina during our virtual interview from her home in Brooklyn earlier this month.
Her character also tries to make herself disappear through an eating disorder, one of the many unhealthy ways she deals with internalized homophobia.
She constantly pines for women she can't have, treats her girlfriend horribly, occasionally drinks too much and uses drugs, is promiscuous, and can be incredibly mean. But she's also a great writer and a popular DJ who can be really loving and kind.
Through a series of vignettes, Zaina pieces together the incidents that have shaped her character's life. The novel takes places all over with parts in the U.S., parts in Europe, and parts in the Arab World. The character finally begins to heal when she goes to a treatment facility where she's diagnosed with "love addiction."
I had a great time talking to Zaina about her novel, her process as a writer, and what she likes to read.
- Why she used the framework of addiction treatment program to help tell this story
- How frustrating it is for readers to conflate her with her first-person narrator
- Why she is no fan of D.H. Lawrence
During the show, Zaina mentioned her favorite novel to teach. The first listener to contact us on Twitter or Facebook with the right answer will win a free copy of You Exist Too Much.
If you have won a ReadMore giveaway in the last 90 days, you're ineligible. If you and I ever attended Camp Mary Atkinson together, you're probably ineligible. ReadMore does not have a friends and family plan, but we'll always have memories of those lovely cabins in the middle of nowhere.
This year Zaina was one of the many authors who attended the Miami Book Fair. You can learn more about the fair here.