Derek Lundy on BorderlandsAuthor Interviews Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010
Two things: First, the drama and physical difficulty and danger of my motorcycle rides. I’ve long become used to the fact that I rode thousands of miles through hard country in lousy weather on bad roads, and that, for a good chunk of that distance along the Mexican line, I was in some jeopardy from both bad guys and the heavily armed cops who saturate the southern border. However, many comments I’ve had from readers have emphasized the impact of the adventurous and strenuous aspects of my research.
Second, readers will be impressed by the sheer size and scope of the American security response to 9/11 as it plays out along the borders. Homeland Security is a monster that will never die. The borders will become ever more fortified, armed, watched, guarded. In the south, the Mexican border is turning into a Great Wall to keep out the barbarians; in the north, the days of the iconic undefended Canadian border with the U.S. is already a wistful memory. If Canadians want to see what their border will eventually become, look south to the Mexico-U.S. line.
Did researching and writing Borderlands teach you anything or influence your thinking in any way?
As I did the research, it certainly reinforced my notions of the history of violence and invasion along America’s borders with its two neighbours. I’m not anti-American, and I deplore this particular form of reflexive Canadian prejudice. I wanted to explain American violent behaviour as a consequence of history and politics, without characterizing it as evil. I had written a previous book about the Protestants of Northern Ireland (“The Bloody Red Hand: A Journey Through Truth, Myth, and Terror in Northern Ireland”) who seem to have behaved like thugs – in the past and during the recent “Troubles.” But I argued that they behaved the way they did because of fear and insecurity, not because they are “bad” people. I tried to take the same approach to Americans, and I thought I had.
However, American publishers have often reacted quite resentfully to “Borderlands.” They obviously don’t like what they see as sometimes pointed criticism. And when I read through the book now, I see that, in merely telling the truth about U.S. history (as I see it, of course), it’s difficult to avoid being very critical of American behaviour. The U.S. did invade Canada in 1812. The U.S. did provoke a completely unjustified war with Mexico in 1846, and two years later, seized half of Mexico’s territory. There was genocide (or at least sporadic genocidal policy); and there were slaves long after slavery was proscribed elsewhere.
I’m still not anti-American – in fact, I continue to admire the U.S. for many reasons – but my research, and my border experience, has made me more despairing and disillusioned in the face of U.S. policies and action. I really want America to fulfill its early promise as the City on the Hill (as the Puritan John Winthrop put it), but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep the faith.
What would you most like readers to tell others about Borderlands?
I’d like them to say that this book is a fascinating adventure story as well as an accurate and interesting analysis of America’s borders with Mexico and Canada.
Can you suggest a question readers might find interesting to discuss, concerning you, your writing in general, or this book?
About my writing: How successful am I in joining together the personal story of my motorcycle rides with the more objective discussion of the history and current problems of the borders?
About the book: How has reading the book changed, or reinforced, your views of the United States and its security concerns in the aftermath of 9/11?
How can readers help you promote Borderlands?
Word of mouth from reader to reader is still the most effective way of promoting a book – except that now, the word can be spread online, through any of the social networks or blogs. Talk (or write) it up.
About Derek Lundy
It’s the only way of making a living and of spending my working time I’ve found that gives me genuine satisfaction (and I’ve held dozens of jobs over my lifetime). I like the solitariness of it, its interior process, the fact that I have the freedom to find out and write about anything I like. I also enjoy the technical process of constructing sentences and paragraphs, the minute-by-minute choosing of one word over another, or of one storyline and not another, or of a particular way of organizing a story over the multitude of alternatives. Writing is also my feeble, and ultimately doomed, attempt to leave a trace of myself in the world.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
I believe I can write with vivid economy and tell a story that’s interesting to read. I can also write about complicated history, politics and cultural issues in a way that’s very readable without sacrificing accuracy or nuance.
What quality do you most value in yourself?
Fair-mindedness. I think I can always see the other side, or sides, of an issue. I can always accord respect to people who hold even radically different views from my own, and I’m able to change my mind about something if it seems necessary or appropriate to do so.
In addition to writing, what are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about some mundane earthly activities, like sailing in small boats. I love the self-contained independence of the sailing vessel, its cosy self-sufficiency and the way it brings you into unavoidable close, and often uncomfortable, contact with nature. Boats can take you away from mundane things and into the last great wilderness of the ocean where you learn so much about the world and about yourself. I’ve written two books about the sea, and my next one is a sea-book too; it will really be the third of a kind of trilogy.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
I suppose that I’ve been able to become a relatively decent human being.
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