"Vividly Imagined" - Into the Unbounded Night by Mitchell James Kaplan - Interview
"Truly a major novel" — Stephanie Cowell, American Book Award recipient, author of Claude And Camille: A Novel Of Monet
“In Into the Unbounded Night, Mitchell Kaplan offers a rich rendering of war and humanity in first century Rome — of tradition and loss, and the transformative power of healing and collective memory to find one’s way home.” – Nichole Bernier, Boston Globe Bestselling author of The Unfinished Work Of Elizabeth D
Into the Unbounded Night
When her village in Albion is sacked by the Roman general Vespasian, young Aislin is left without home and family. Determined to exact revenge, she travels to Rome, a sprawling city of wealth, decadence, and power. A “barbarian” in a “civilized” world, Aislin struggles to comprehend Roman ways. From a precarious hand-to-mouth existence on the streets, she becomes the mistress of a wealthy senator, but their child Faolan is born with a disability that renders him unworthy of life in the eyes of his father and other Romans.
Imprisoned for her efforts to topple the Roman regime, Aislin learns of an alternate philosophy from her cellmate, the Judean known today as the Apostle St. Paul. As the capital burns in the Great Fire of 64 AD, he bequeaths to her a mission that will take her to Jerusalem. There, Yohanan, son of Zakkai, has been striving to preserve the tradition of Hillel against the Zealots who advocate for a war of independence. Responding to the Judeans’ revolt, the Romans—again under the leadership of Vespasian—besiege Jerusalem, destroying the Second Temple and with it, the brand of Judean monotheism it represents. Yohanan takes on the mission of preserving what can be preserved, and of re-inventing what must be reinvented.
Throughout Into the Unbounded Night, Aislin’s, Faolan’s, Vespasian’s, and Yohanan’s lives intertwine in unexpected ways that shed light on colonization and its discontents, the relative values of dominant and tyrannized cultures, and the holiness of life itself—even the weakest of lives.
In the author's words . . .
Q&A with Mitchell James Kaplan
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?
She survives. In the process, she has to adjust and modify some of her basic assumptions about the world. She changes as she learns more about the complexities and nuances of that world.
Do you believe in the concept of a muse? What is yours like?
Very much so. I don’t know where my story will take me. It has to be a journey of discovery, or where’s the fun?
Do you consider your books plot-driven or character-driven?
I don’t think in these terms. In my view, a good novel is an organic whole, like the world itself. The characters and the story should be equally compelling. And the writing—its musicality and connotative power—should be no less exciting.
What does literary success look like to you?
When I talk with a reader who experienced the novel—these same scenes, these same lives and emotions, that filtered through my mind and ultimately arrived on paper, and from there into that reader’s eyes and mind—that is success.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It will not happen the way you expect. But it will happen.
“Kaplan’s prose is so rich and agile I felt I was breathing the air of these ancient places, and his evocation of character is no less palpable. Fully embodied and driven by ambition, grief, the clear-eyed desire for truth, and fierce maternal love, these characters plunge, march, and stumble toward their fascinating and entangled destinies.” —Marisa de los Santos, New York Times bestselling novelist of I’ll Be Your Blue Sky and award-winning poet
Enjoy an excerpt from
Into the Unbounded Night
The bard who has appeared at their gate, a huge man with a wild beard and untamed hair, is dressed in a yellow leine and a plum-colored outer garment. All sixty-seven villagers gather around him as he raises his hands and lowers them in a circular motion, creating an airy orb in which his characters will dwell while his words breathe life into them.
“Greetings from the court of King Togodumnus,” he thunders, and the elders, together with their children and their children’s children, listen captivated as he embarks upon a long, convoluted tale of warriors wandering, curses acquired and shed like ill-fitting garments, and princesses’ hearts bursting with sadness and gratitude. He speaks of a wild man who hoards balms of healing; of a heartbroken knight who has forged a pact with the Companions, only to discover that he has been cheated; of a spinster who, after her death, contrives to burn down the castle of the prince who has spurned her. As the sun sets and a storm brews, the bard sits on a boulder, reels in the far-flung fibers of his story, and knots them into a loose net that traps his listeners’ imaginations.
“Our lives are nothing but tales, my friends,” he concludes. “Interlocking yarns that form a great epic whose outer edges we can never behold. Like all good stories our lives twist and turn; you think it’s about this but then it’s about that. Trails appear to lead one way but take you somewhere else. Patterns shift under our gaze like a stick on a bush that moves and becomes an insect.
“At night, look up at the heavens. Look at the constellations, the legends they relate. And consider this: another girl, another boy, a thousand days’ journey distant, is gazing up at those same stars. They are telling him and her stories, too. Not the same stories. Entirely different ones. But they are the same stars.”
He waves toward the horizon. “I must warn you. You will slog through many a muddy field before you happen upon the open, green landscape that causes your heart to soar. And I shall not hide it from you: you will see much tumult. Battles will be won and lost, loved ones will die and others be born. The sun may turn black but even in that murk, if you keep your eyes open, you will discern a glimmer.” He lowers his voice. “Always keep in mind, the verities of the heart are the center, around which all revolves.”
Although he has spoken these words a hundred times, he infuses them with such quiet, intimate passion that they sparkle like flecks of gold in a rushing stream. He possesses the ability to look all the children in the eyes at once.
“And now I defer to you to bring this magical afternoon we have spent together to a suitable conclusion. Form a circle under that tree yonder and thank our Companions for the inscrutable wonders of this existence that the universe has bequeathed to us for no reason we can hope to learn.” The children spread out under the gnarled, weeping trunk of the great yew, their hair unfurled, their faces upturned to the sky, and chant a prayer. Rain falls crimson in the sunset. Lightning streaks their eyes.
Excerpt Copyright © Mitchell James Kaplan
Learn more about the book at the author's website.
Meet the Author
Mitchell James Kaplan graduated with honors from Yale University, where he won the Paine Memorial Prize for Best Long-Form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department. His first mentor was the author William Styron.
After college, Kaplan lived in Paris, France, where he worked as a translator, then in Southern California, where he worked as a screenwriter and in film production.
He lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his family and two cats.
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Release Date: September 1, 2020
Type: Novel - Paperback & Ebook - 231 pages
Content Note: R - Descriptive Sex and Violence
During the blog tour, we are giving away 2 copies of Into the Unbounded Night! To enter, please use the Gleam form below. The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on September 25th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Void where prohibited by law. This giveaway is sponsored by the author and hosted by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.