Migration Story: Why novelist Aga Maksimowska revisits her Giant
People tell stories. They can’t help themselves. Predictable stories, repetitive stories, stories only they know and only they can tell. “Therefore,” Dziadek announced after completing another World War II story, “all stories are true,” except when he would tell us how he ended up in the concentration camp Stutthof. He didn’t follow it up with “true story,” because he’d never finish that story. – Adapted from GIANT, 2012, Pedlar Press. Reprinted with permission.
Aga Maksimowska's novel GIANT (Pedlar Press) was a Toronto Book Award finalist and a CBC Readers' Choice Top 5 book when it was published in 2012. So it was a pretty successful book. Which is why we were fascinated to learn that Maksimowska is working on revisiting the universe of GIANT for her next tome. We spoke to her in July to find out why?
Q: For our readers who aren't familiar, what is the general theme of GIANT?
A: Migration and identity; a child's view of a revolution, both political and physiological. The revolution that was the fall of Communism in Poland, but also the revolution that is puberty and coming of age in one's body.
Why do you want to revisit some of the aspects of your novel?
It's been six years since my first novel was published. When I wrote it, I was single and childless. Now I am married and a parent of two kids. In many ways the first book was about perspective: what do we know, what don't we know, who knows what and why, who gets to know. Those ideas still interest me, only from the opposite perspective. GIANT was the child's view of things—family chaos, political uprising, immigration—whereas the new novel will be the parent's view.
Do your characters ever take over your thoughts?
I tend to write from life, so sometimes it's hard to know where a character begins and I end. That seems to clarify itself on the page, or on the computer screen, when I sit down to write. I can only sit down to write once I have thought about the story for a long, long time. In the shower, while I walk, do dishes, fold laundry, even, Readers wanted to know what was true and what was invented in GIANT, which was understandable because the similarities between me and the protagonist and the plot and my life are many, but at the same time, once you sit down to write the best story possible it's all fiction. It's all true, and none of it is true.
The theme of this issue of Femke is voice/music. In music, a composer can do many variations on a theme. And a writer can tell many stories from a single universe. What do you want to explore with your writing?
It seems that Femke and I are perfect for each other. Voice is what I love most in fiction. As a reader and a writer I am drawn to first person narratives. I am fascinated by what we reveal about ourselves when we describe situations and other people. I think the 'I' is essential, especially at this moment in history. We have so much access to information. We are constantly bombarded with stimuli. We live on Twitter and Instagram and SnapChat and Facebook and we ‘like’ and judge and dismiss without doing much thinking or listening. Our attention spans have shrunk. To me, the third person often presumes that we know people, because we can see them—I mean, we can't see ourselves unless we have a mirror or a reflective surface of some sort--so there is this hubris in the third person, this all-knowing all-powerful omniscient force. At this stage in my life, I am not interested in an omniscient voice, in inventing knowledge of others. All I want to do is listen to stories of the ‘I’s out there. Read them. Tell my own.
Do you have a message you want to say with your writing or do you see yourself more as a medium for your characters?
Message for sure. I am an opinionated person, although I am trying to be less.
By Rhonda Riche, Photography by Nicole Stafford