To celebrate Memoir March, we spoke to the authors of this spring’s most exciting memoirs about their research processes, writing roadblocks and biggest fears as they put their personal stories out into the world. Theo Padnos shares some of the joys and difficulties behind his book, Blindfold, about the two years he spent imprisoned by operatives of al-Qaida.
What do you love most about your book?
I’m not sure I do love it. I like that I told the truth, that you can understand new things about the Syrian war by reading it, that it’s about more than just me and more than just the Syrian war, that it has some funny bits, that it tells a story that many, many people have lived.
What kind of reader do you think will most appreciate or enjoy your book?
I think the kind of person who will appreciate my book is perceptive, curious and open-minded. But perhaps the close-minded will also like it? Anyway, I wrote it for everyone. I hope everyone will appreciate it.
What is one thing in your book that’s true that readers may have a hard time believing?
Not a thing in there that’s unbelievable, in my opinion. Possibly some people will have difficulty believing I wasn’t killed. But here I am—living and breathing.
What resistance did you face while writing this book?
Lots. It was hard for me to figure out how to make my story a story about something bigger than me.
Was there anything that surprised you as you wrote?
Yes, lots of things—everything, really. So many things I didn’t remember until I started writing about them. There’s a point in this book when some kidnappers are playing in my hair with the muzzle of their gun. I was in the front seat of a car and had no idea what they were doing. I didn’t even know I was kidnapped yet, to be honest. I did, however, feel a faint messing about in my hair, as if an insect were nuzzling around the nape of my neck. I recalled some details of this scene a few days after it occurred but didn’t recover anything like a coherent memory of the event—didn’t understand what it meant—until years later when I wrote about it.
Is there anything in your book that you’re nervous for people to read?
Nope. I’ll be grateful if people read it. I’ll be annoyed if no one reviews it. Basically, I’m happy if anyone pays any kind of attention at all.
How do you feel now that you’ve put this story to the page?
I’m relieved. It’s not so much me telling a tale about my own life that I care about but rather me telling a tale that thousands of others have also lived. I want my readers to say to themselves, “Yup, I’ve been there” or, “I could have been there.” Even if they know nothing about Syria or have no intention of visiting this place, I hope they’ll say this.
"It’s important that people understand I haven’t made anything up because I am writing about a place in which so much of what happens defies belief."
What's one way that your book is better as a memoir than it would have been as a novel?
It’s all true. If it were a novel, people might suppose that I piped in random details from my imagination. In reality, I piped in non-random details from the world of facts. It’s important that people understand I haven’t made anything up because I am writing about a place—a Syrian Islamic state—in which so much of what happens defies belief.
Many people think writing memoir means you just write from memory and don’t have to do research, but obviously that’s not true. What is the most interesting thing you had to research in order to write this book?
I did a bit of research through my kidnapper’s Facebook pages. Otherwise, I tried to keep anything that felt like research or reporting to a minimum. I didn’t want to write an extended magazine piece. Rather, I wanted to follow a line of feeling and to have this line bring the reader into truths they might not otherwise discover. What kind of truths? Truths about the war in Syria, yes—but also about love and loneliness, life and death, dreams and reality.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Discover more great memoirs this Memoir March.
Author photo credit: Karen Demas