Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi on the Ambiguous and Unfolding Process of Healing
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the guest. Her latest novel, Savage Tongues, is out now from Mariner Books.
From the episode:
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: I am obviously a big fan of women writers who use stream of consciousness, like Virginia Woolf or even Rachel Cusk, and the way that time kind of circles and loops in texts by those writers. Marguerite Duras, too, Clarice Lispector. I feel like that aesthetic choice, which is more a structural choice about how you manage duration and the passage of time in a novel, works really well when you’re trying to actually capture the lived experience of a traumatic event that has a really long afterlife. And I was interested in the way that trauma, language, and memory interact with one another, and how the way we talk about trauma changes over time as our identities evolve. And then in turn, our memory of what happened also begins to shift.
And I think that all three of those things—trauma, memory, and language—are so mercurial, they’re so amoeba-like and chameleon-like, they’re always shifting and transforming—and we can exert pressure on them. And it just kind of highlighted to me how alive the trauma can feel to us, even 20, 30, 40 years after it’s happened. It’s always kind of a story that’s unfolding alongside the rest of our lives and the other stories that we’re learning to tell about ourselves and each other. I wanted the book to reenact that rather than tell it in a way that’s more finite.
Brad Listi: Do we ever really get over anything?
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: I don’t think so. You pointed to the question of the cultural inheritance in the book. I’ve been thinking about this a lot: when we come from cultures that are far older than the American new world culture, there is a way in which time is so circular and it just unfolds. and you’re aware of the layering of the past and the present and the future in a very deep way that can also be oppressive. Like in America, there’s always the sense of potential and newness and the next thing you could get off the ground. But I think that also then informs the way we think about trauma and healing in ways that aren’t helpful. We want it to be finite. We want it to be fixable. And I don’t think healing works that way.
Healing is an ongoing process, especially when we’re talking about the kind of trauma that brings you really close to your own mortality or that completely shifts your perception of reality from one moment or one year to the next. And that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to live with it with grace and dignity and resilience. But it’s an ambiguous and unfolding process. You can’t put a period at the end of it and be like, this is me before, this is me after.
To listen to the rest of the episode, as well as the whole archive of Otherppl with Brad Listi, subscribe and listen on iTunes or wherever else you find your favorite podcasts.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi is the author of three books. She was a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and is the recipient of a PEN/Faulkner Award and a Whiting Award. Her work has appeared in the Paris Review, Guernica, Granta, BOMB, and elsewhere. She splits her time between South Bend, Indiana, and Chicago.