His new book is the gripping story of a Lebanese Christian pushed into crisis by a Hezbollah insurgency. It takes risks in terms of genre, using aspects of vampire literature to transform a novel that’s already dealing with war and religio-political nightmare. This is fiction that won’t be constrained by old ideas about borders, a point made by Pip Adam in an illuminating review here.
Shuker is currently in Wellington as the writer in residence at Victoria University. I took the chance to ask him three questions about this book.
LP: For me the first eruption of vampire activity in Anti Lebanon came as a shock—I swore out loud! But it’s not as if Anti Lebanon suddenly becomes a simplistic orgy of vampire violence and torment. It seems you’re more interested in using aspects of that genre to explore “pyr”, a violence of attitude that rises from old and complicated sources. What influenced your foray into that genre, and did you always intend to incorporate aspects of vampire literature, or did that grow out of the developing story?
CS: I initially had a book in mind that was partly speculative. I went as far as inventing alternative and parallel organisations to those that really existed in the civil war—new militias, political parties, personalities, even religions. I wrote a piece I still like about an Armenian militia that insisted on fighting unarmed—they simply marched against their foes over the bodies of the dead, embarrassing their enemies into ceasefire. But as a whole it lacked depth and urgency and wasn’t working, and as I explored Leon I naturally came around to returning my militias and sects back to the reality we know, and then the novel began to feel dangerous and exciting. Until it died again, after about fifty pages of work. The book and the material wanted something that mere reality couldn’t furnish.
LP: Leon’s rage seems to be partly sourced in his despair over the waste and misuse of a key Lebanon resource—water—as symbolised most powerfully in the poisoning of the Anti Lebanon aquifer. For me this despair resonated strongly with concerns about water elsewhere in the world, especially here in New Zealand. Was that part of your decision to set this story in Lebanon—the universality of those concerns about water?
CS: It’s everywhere we look, isn’t it. It grew out of the material, the way these things should. I went on research to Lebanon, Syria and Israel with water and blood in mind, but I wasn’t prepared for the state of the Beirut river, the Jordan, or the Dead Sea. The more you read in the history of the Lebanon, the more you understand it as an incredibly singular phenomenon in the area. The richness of its natural resources, compared with Syria and Israel as they are currently drawn, is an astonishment. The cedars, the rivers, the mountains, plains and sea. And it is religion that has done its damndest to ruin these things.... (please click Read More)