Author Q&A: Marisol Murano on Cooking, Culture and Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion

by Casee Marie on October 12, 2012

in Words with the Author

Fabulous chef-slash-author Marisol Murano is fresh off the book tour of her new novel, Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion, and she’s taken the time to stop by Literary Inklings today for a little Q&A! The novel, about a spirited Venezuelan woman’s adventures (and misadventures) in the US, was published last month and has gone on to win acclaim from readers for its charm and heart. Goodreads members can currently enter for a chance to win the novel right here; the giveaway ends 10/15.

Author Marisol Murano
Author Marisol Murano
“Now I have the option of chopping onions to get through writer’s block.”

In addition to writing novels you’re also a world-traveling chef. When did you know you wanted to pursue these two very different careers?

I’ve loved the kitchen since I was a little girl, but I never thought of it as a career. I went to culinary school at a friend’s suggestion. One day over a great lunch that I kept raving about, my friend said, “If you like cooking so much, why not get paid for it?” Now I have the option of chopping onions to get through writer’s block.

Like Valentina, you’re originally from Venezuela, having moved to the States when you were eighteen. Did your own experiences as a Venezuelan in America impact the experiences Valentina has in the novel?

Only to a certain extent. Let me explain what I mean. In the many years I have lived in the U.S., I have met many people from other countries who were struggling to adapt to their new culture and some who could not adapt at all, and had to make the difficult decision to return to their home countries. Collectively, some of those stories came to life in the characters of both Valentina and Azucena, Valentina’s sister.

There’s this great quote from Virginia Woolf which I think applies to the paradox that is the immigrant experience, “You called me ungrateful? My life has been stolen from me. I’m living in a town I have no wish to live in. I’m living a life I have no wish to live. How did this happen?”

In a nutshell, this is Azucena’s plight. She tries, but fails, to adapt to life in the U.S. And yet, the moment she returns to Venezuela, she starts to miss her life in Charlotte, North Carolina. She feels she doesn’t belong in either place.

Your book is described as part Bridget Jones’ Diary part Modern Family. What other inspirations did you draw on to tell this story?

One of the greatest inspirations for me is the body of work of Jhumpa Lahiri, and in particular, her short stories from Interpreter of Maladies. All the stories are gems, but there is one which first awakened me to the challenge of handling difficult material in a charming, even hilarious way, which is ultimately what I tried to do with Valentina. The story is called The Treatment of Bibi Haldar.

Valentina Goldman's Immaculate Confusion by Marisol Murano
Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion
“I hope readers see this spirit as one of the beautiful heritages of my country.”

During the development stages of Valentina’s character I was also inspired by the work of Arnon Grunberg – in particular, his novel Phantom Pain, which is populated by many quirky and endearing characters. I was especially moved by the fiction writer who turns to culinary writing to fulfill the obligation of his long overdue second novel. You can say I could relate to that character’s plight. I met Mr. Grunberg while I was on book tour in the Netherlands. I started reading his work (in translation) as soon as I returned to the States.

Fiction is a fantastic way for readers to discover and be influenced by other cultures. What aspects Valentina’s (and your) Venezuelan culture do you hope to convey American readers?

Valentina and Azucena represent to me the indomitable spirit of Venezuelans, who in the face of political and economic turmoil, do their passionate best to carry on. I hope readers see this spirit as one of the beautiful heritages of my country. Also, Venezuela is very much stratified by class. The novel illuminates these class imbalances – through Azucena’s long-running battles with her maids. I did so in order to shed light on this part of our culture.

I’m fresh from book tour, so I can share with you what readers are telling me what they find fascinating about Venezuela (from the book). It’s the chapter called “Hot Couture,” a pun on “Haute Couture.”

The chapter pokes fun at bullet-proof designer clothing made for people in Venezuela, who want to look good while guarding themselves from the danger that lurks on the streets every day. It’s the only chapter in the book which is actually based on a true story. When I read about the Colombian designer, Miguel Caballero, in The Wall Street Journal, I knew I had to include the story in the book somehow. I didn’t think I could invent a better way to show how truly dangerous Venezuela has become. There’s even a YouTube video about Miguel Caballero shooting someone to prove that his designs actually work. His bullet-proof Polo shirt costs $4,000. It was my way of shining some light on capitalism at work in both hemispheres.

The sub-text of that story is devastating, of course. But that’s Valentina’s character. She’s telling you a story in her quirky way to keep from bursting into tears.

Prior to Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion your first novel saw great acclaim, and you’ve also written a cooking book. What are some of your current projects for the future?

Given that Valentina Goldman is a relatively young widow at 37, maybe I’ll explore what finding love is like after such a dramatic loss — in a sequel. Which country will she choose, now that she has the freedom to live wherever she wants? Or maybe I’ll send Valentina to a fictional cooking school, so she can learn to cook a decent meal at last (wink). I’m sure readers of your blog will offer suggestions. I get readers’ suggestions for my characters all the time!

I of course continue to work as a destination chef. Someone has to fund the writing habit. (Laughs).

About Marisol Murano
When she was 18-years-old Marisol Murano moved to the United States to attend school so that afterwards she could return to her native Venezuela to get married and have kids. None of this happened. Instead, she ended up getting a Master’s degree which eventually landed her a boring job in an exciting city: New York.

After a few years running the corporate rat race, Marisol woke up to this one day, “Even if you win the race, you’re still a rat.” That was the end of her banking career and the birth of her first novel: The Lady, The Chef, and The Courtesan.

Marisol was the first to be surprised when her first novel was named Latino Book of the Year, Original Voices from Border’s and was picked as a BookSense selection. She was further surprised when it was translated into several languages.

A second career detour led her to become a chef and the author of a cookbook, Deliciously Doable Small Plates from Around the World. Between novels, Chef Marisol now travels the world conducting culinary demonstrations on exotic cuisine. In fact, Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion was born at sea in a split-second of confusion when during a culinary demonstration a woman raised her hand to ask: “Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?”

Life is stranger than fiction, indeed.

Visit Marisol: Website | Facebook | Goodreads
Buy Valentina Goldman’s Immaculate Confusion: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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