“Frequently had to remind myself that Interstate wasn’t a travelogue nor was it reportage, what I was reading was fiction” – Interstate by Julian Sayarer

ijaIt is November 2012 and Emre a young film maker from Britain has travelled to New York in order to secure finance and finally begin shooting his film. On the day he was finally scheduled to get the go ahead Emre discovers that plans to produce the film are abandoned. Emre finds himself alone and broke in New York. For some unknown reason he decides to hitchhike across the USA to San Francisco. In the process he encounters the good, the bad and the very ugly of all that America has on offer in the first decade of the 21st century.

Before disembarking for the west coast Emre campaigns for Bill de Blasio’s bid to become Mayor of New York. It is while he is engaged in knocking on the doors of the poor then wining and dining with the grandees of the Democratic Party that Emre see first hands some of the contradictions which will eventually undo liberal America.

As he partakes of his voyage of discovery through America, Emre encounters a menagerie of characters, some of whom, as a liberal, he is in total agreement with, others whom he is completely opposed and a small minority whose contradictory opinions leave him utterly bamboozled. The most sympathetic character he meets is Pala, a Sikh truck driver with whom he has a genuine sense of friendship. After many miles of travelling together and swapping stories, when it comes time to part there is a genuine feeling of something lost. In other instances Emre just can’t wait to get away from.

Throughout the novel the writing is incredibly detailed and it soon becomes apparent Sayarer has gone to fantastic efforts in recording the where, what and why of this fictional road journey. The results was that while reading this book I frequently had to remind myself that Interstate wasn’t a travelogue nor was it reportage, what I was reading was fiction.

From reading it is obvious that Emre has an ambivalent attitude toward America. It is a land of countless opportunities where the very poor can somehow succeed and make it to the top. Yet its people drive him to the very edge of despair. At one point he says:

“Americans don’t have thoughts, or emotions, Americans only have responses. Everything has been beaten out of them by Hollywood and commerce.”

In light of recent events how true is that.

Sayarer touches on many of the concerns and their accompanying hypocrisies which lie at the heart of America. Here he is talking to a young man at a petrol station in Yermo, California.

“Mexicans hear there’s no work up in Michigan, word spreads, and so they don’t make the journey north. The farmers in Michigan, they start complaining there’s no cheap labour.” Then he adds that those same farmers spend the rest of the year complaining about immigration.”

By the end of the journey through America Emre is tired, worn out, disillusioned. He just wants to get to San Francisco by tube right through the centre of the earth. He no longer wants the big entry, rather he simply wishes to slip in among the multitudes.

Any Cop?: Emre is no impartial observer. He has his own conclusions and in the cultural wars would undoubtedly be on the side of the left. On saying that he is more than willing to cut those he disagrees with some slack and offer some praise when the opportunity arises. In light of the recent American election and the elevation of Donald Trump to the office of President there will no doubt be a slew of books by political commentators offering expert opinions as to why America voted the way it did. Disregard everything they say. If you want to get to the heart of modern America read Interstate by Julian Sayarer instead.

 

Joe Phelan

 

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