Getting to visit new countries is one of the best things that happened to me as a result of having published a book, second only to the experience of having been translated into other languages.
When the trips come to an end, there are things I wish I would have said to people in other countries, but I am gone before I know exactly what those things are. And there are all the questions. It is only once I have already left a place that I know what I want to ask.
In Stockholm a crowd of people came to hear me in conversation with Björn Wiman at the Kulturhuset. Although I had done other events before, this was one of the first times where I felt as though I got to have a long and serious discussion about some of the literary and political preoccupations I have been thinking of as of late, because of the excellent questions and thoughts of Mr. Wiman and the generous length of time we had.
But at the end of the discussion an older woman stood up. She had sat through the event to protest my having written a book about Israeli soldiers, because of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. She had not read the book, and did not think that the point of view of Israeli soldiers had any literary value.
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I tried to answer every single one of the questions she had, but she was not very interested in hearing me. I was more interested in asking her questions: What made her come to this event? Why did she care so passionately about this issue, in the ways that she had? But of course there was no time for me to ask.
In Budapest, now known as my new favorite place on earth, I left a booth at a book festival after signing some books. My publisher called me back and asked if I would sign one more book for a woman who missed the signing time. I went back to sign the book and thanked the woman. She smiled.
I later found out from my publisher that she did not speak much English. My publisher told me that the woman said to him in Hungarian that she does not have a lot of money, but every few months, she saves up for one book she really wants to buy and that she had read about my book and decided that this was the book she wanted to buy this time.
There is so much I wish I could have told that woman about what hearing such a thing meant to me. I wish I could have told her about all the times I saved up to buy the one book that sounded like the one I wanted most. A part of me is happy I am not in a position to ask her if she was disappointed. But I do think about her every day I write.
Sometimes at book events I feel like I have not said much at all – it is difficult when everyone is staring at you to answer complicated questions. It is even harder to ask them. But I try to remember that I do not know when I will next have the chance to meet people from the countries I now visit, and I hope that at future book events I become better at conversing about what I really care about, so that I can learn even more from the people I meet.