Colin Marshall sits down in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights with Peter Orner, author of the novels Love and Shame and Love and The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo and the short story collection Esther Stories as well as co-editor of the nonfiction collections Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives and Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives. They discuss the heightened Americanness of Chicago and what it has offered his literary sensibility; our tendency as Americans, for good and ill, to chase stuff, whether in the city or the suburbs; his fascination with how life simply goes on amid grand (and possibly meaningless) power struggles; how, as a fresh college graduate, he found his was to Namibia; how his experience compares with the fictional Scottish doctor who falls in with Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, especially in the sense of the gnawing burden of non-belonging; life in a country where things slow down, and the space for thought that provides; how Namibia inspired him to write a story of a man lost in a Kafkanly inescapable shopping mall, and how he used a school’s sole typewriter to compose it; his constant aspirations to the condition of the short story collection, the “highest form,” and how even his novels secretly take that form; the experimentalism of great books that don’t seem experimental, like Bleak House or Moby Dick; how Namibia’s situation compares to that of Zimbabwe, and how many of Zimbabwe’s problems can be laid at the feet of Robert Mugabe; how he experiences a San Francisco beyond the Fisherman’s Wharves and the Transamerica Pyramids; and his criticism of the city’s increasing pricing out of families that leads, ultimately, to a loss of stories.
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