Sunday, January 29, 2017

Welcome Sarah of Pushing Water by @margaretmendel2 #historical #Vietnam #FrenchColonial

I’d like to welcome Sarah, from the novel Pushing Water by Margaret Mendel.

RW:       What’s your story/back story? Why would someone come up with a story
               about you?

S:         I am Sarah, the protagonist in the novel, Pushing Water. I work as an archivist for the French Colonial Government in Vietnam during the late 1930s. My job is to file and catalogue documents that the French are gathering from across this Asian country. France is in the process of what they call “Civilizing Vietnam.” They are setting up a library of all Vietnamese written material which is one of the ways they plan to bring this country into the modern age. There is a lot of disquiet in the World and Vietnam has its share of trouble. My aim is to tell the story of this place and time from an outsider’s vantage point.

RW:        Can you tell me about your hero?

S:          Though it has been quite a few years since the end of WWI, I am unable to get over the loss of my fiancé who died in that war. In an attempt to relieve myself of this sorrow, while working as a librarian in the USA, I applied for an archivist potion in Paris, France. Eventually I end up taking this job in Vietnam, the farthest place I could find, all the while attempting to rid myself of sad memories from my past.

RW:       What problems do you have to face and overcome in your life?

S:        I was successful at making a life for myself in Vietnam. Then I discovered the body of a murdered coworker. For years I tried to remain unattached to people, attempting to stay aloof and emotionally removed. But I am devastated by the murder, and I’m trying to find out who did the terrible deed. The deeper I dig into the crime the more entangled I become in the lives of others, and the more hopelessly I find myself dealing with not only the present day troubles, but the past is bubbling up as well.

RW:       During what time period does your story take place?

A:         The novel takes place in Vietnam during a volatile time just prior to WWII. Japan has been at war with China for several years. There is much mystery and intrigue in the World, the Spanish Civil war has just ended. A large portion of the Vietnamese youth are attempting to rid their country of the French Rule. Hitler is causing much trouble in Europe and though the USA has remained neutral, it is only a matter of time before the World will be embroiled in another devastating war.

RW:        How are you coping with the conflict in your life?

S:         I cope quietly. I drink more than I probably should, but the booze calms my nerves and lets me sleep through the night. Things were going fine for me until I found the murdered coworker. Then it seemed that my life got turned upside down.

An old friend who I hadn’t seen in at least five years showed up, and my part-time lover, Albee, came on the scene, bringing with him complications and secrets. I do the best I can, though like most characters in a novel, having no real control over what happens to them, I have no idea how the future will test my coping skills.

RW:        What song would best describe your life?

S:         Probably any song that Bessie Smith sang would describe my life. The Blues tell it like it is and there are more stories in one of Bessie’s songs than most people realize. Some time it feels like that woman knew me.

RW:        What is your secret guilty pleasure?

S:          What gives me the most pleasure is sipping a glass of wine in my garden on a star filled night. My guilty pleasure is trying to forget.

RW:       Are you in control of your author or does she control you?

S:          It feels like most of the time I am in control of my life. Then when I think about all the issues that are thrown at me in this novel, I wonder, who am I kidding? It’s like life—you think things are going along just fine, then wham, you get hit with a devastating problem, like the death of a friend, or a coworker. I am solidly in this novel, and though I had no idea what I signed up for, in the end it was a truly powerful ride. One I am glad to have been a part of.

RW:        Satin sheets or Egyptian cotton?

S:          I know many people prefer satin sheets because they feel luxurious and the slippery smoothness gives the sheets a sense of sensuality. But to me they feel slimy, almost greasy. I prefer a soft washed cotton. I like the earthiness of the tightly woven texture. Besides I don’t know what the woman who does my laundry would think about scrubbing satin sheets in her wash tub.

RW:        I’m always ready for (fill in the blank).

S:          I never turn down a visit to the local American friendly bar. Albee, my sometime lover, introduced me to the bartender. The place attempts to replicated the back-home feeling for the scraggly bunch of Americans who stumble in looking for an honest shot of booze or a tall glass of homemade beer. Lately this place has attracted a group of International reporters and mercenaries looking to get into the mix with the trouble that’s brewing in this part of the World.

RW:       Those are all the questions I have for you, Sarah. Thanks so much for talking to me me today.

Margaret Mendel’s Bio:

Margaret Mendel lives in NYC. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence. Many of her short stories have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. Her debut novel, Fish Kicker was published in 2014. She has worked in the mental health field for more than twenty years, but now devotes her time to writing. She is an avid blogger and photographer. Not only does she drag a laptop wherever she goes, but she also takes a Nikon camera with her as well. Many of her photographs have appeared in websites, in online literary journals, e-magazines, and some have become book covers.


The Plot:

VIETNAM, 1939. Sarah, an expat, working as an archivist for the French Colonial Government in Hanoi, is devastated when she finds a Vietnamese co-worker murdered.

Determined to find the killer. Sarah suspects she knows what prompted the murder when she discovers a secret document in a packet of poetry the co-worker had borrowed from the archives.

The papers include a secret colonial communication outlining a direct order that will bring about devastating hardship for the Vietnamese people.

Sarah’s life is further complicated by the arrival of an old friend, Julia, who brings with her remembrances of a past Sarah would rather forget. Then Albee, Sarah’s part time lover comes on the scene. He claims to be an archaeologist working on a dig in China, though Sarah suspects he is a full time communist revolutionary.

Sarah attempts to deal with her problematic personal life, wishing for her solitude to return, when a friend of Sarah’s is arrested and executed for revolutionary activities. Heartsick Sarah decides to return to the States. Though there is one more hurdle to overcome. The world is in a chaotic mess and within one devastating day nothing will ever be the same again.


Yesterday after picking up Julia at the airstrip, instead of heading straight back to my place we stopped for drinks at a bar where I hung out from time to time. Between swallows of wine, I made feeble attempts to explain what had happened. Telling the full story was unnerving and painful. My mind stumbled over the unreal situation. The right words would not come. How could something that horrible be explained? So, most of the afternoon was spent with my nose buried in a glass of rice wine, while I listened half-heartedly to Julia’s stories about her adventures as a correspondent in the Civil War in Spain.

Since finding Thien Nguyen’s body, my attention flicked in and out. Most of what Julia said didn’t register. The image of this young, dead, co-worker lying prostrate between two rows of bookshelves, a garrotte twisted tightly around his neck, felt imprinted on my brain. The memory of this scene could have just as well been branded on my retinas because it is quite likely that it would be with me forever.


Author Website & Blog:
Twitter:  @margaretmendel2

Buy Links:

Amazon:  Amazon
BN:  B&N

No comments:

Post a Comment