BLOG TOUR. A Love Story Across A Clash of Cultures. Imperfect Pairings by Jackie Townsend
Set in beautiful San Francisco and Italy, this moving and emotionally-charged love story involves a clash between cultures. Luminous writing and memorable characters make this novel by Jackie Townsend a lovely novel to read, although I found it heart-rending at times.
Jamie, a career-woman comes from a torn family, and she is anxious to get ahead in her company. Marriage is certainly not on her agenda, and her background makes her scared of it. Her lack of a religious background means that she is not used to a strong faith. She's also somewhat forthright at times. For example, when Jack's relation brings a girl home in San Francisco, she asks him whether he has 'protection'. He doesn't like this.
She is surprised when her Italian boyfriend, Jack, suddenly becomes much more Italian, and he takes her to visit his family in Italy. They are completely different from Jamie's family. Jamie finds the strong ties of the Italian family intimidating, especially 'La Mamma' who hardly speaks any English, and wants her to be more domesticated. She also finds the emphasis on religion and big weddings hard to come to terms with. The Italians' seeming lack of ambition also seems to get on her nerves. Jack has become 'Giovanni'; he wants her to go on a steep learning curve, and become more Italian.
Can she do this, and can Jamie give her somewhat closed heart to him? Can a love between cultures ever work? This is the central question of this enjoyable book.
Surprisingly, I found the Italians easier to understand than the Americans! Perhaps, this is something to do with being an Australian. Jamie got on my nerves at times, and I found Giovanni much more likeable. However, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book.
INTERVIEW WITH JACKIE TOWNSEND
You wrote in your Q&A about your own story, and how you wanted to make your novel 'a real and true' account of how an American and an Italian fall in love. You also said that you took longer to 'open up' to your Italian family. Is Jamie's story very similar to yours?
Yes, I was somewhat blindsided by my husband’s Italian family. I guess, like many Americans, I saw the ideal. I wanted the ideal, and when the reality turned out to be different, I had a hard time adapting. To adapt you have to give all of yourself. And that’s scary. They wanted too much of me, so I kept them at arms length, which was easy to do given the body of water between us. But over time, like erosion, naturally the borders break down. Time really can be a gift.
Is her character similar to yours?
Yes, I was that independent, brash, career woman that many have come to dislike in the novel. Hearing people’s reaction to Jamie has been interesting, as you can imagine. I unconsciously tend to be more aggressive with my characters; Jamie is more cut and dry than I am. Harsher. Plus, the style of my dialogue is minimalistic. I like people to read between the lines, their interpretations are their own. With respect to Jamie, in many cases those interpretations have been different than mine. So it goes, once you write it, it’s no longer yours.
In spite of the beauty and warmth of Italy, Jamie often got homesick and yearned for America. You captured the yearning for the 'homeland' very well on both sides. Was that difficult to write from both Jamie's and Giovanni's points of view?
I’m around a lot of transplants, both to America and to other countries. My father-in-law has lived in Thailand for thirty years, for instance, and I have spent much time there among ex-pats. There’s this tremendous sense of displacement, of loss. They are at once free and held captive. A variety of sensations come to mind, and this definitely helped me write about Giovanni’s yearning for home.
Also, I have done a lot of traveling on my own, for my previous job and simply just to explore. There is an underlying sense of derision foreigners have towards America. It’s a weird feeling, like you’ve been fooled. Brainwashed. We are the best and everyone loves us. Sometimes, living with foreigners, you lose sight of that fact that you love your country, that you’re proud to be an American. I am very proud to be an American.
What do you think are the good points about the American and the Italian ways of life?
Italians live simply. They really enjoy each other. Every day. Families live near each other. Help each other. Grandparents have deep relations with their grandchildren. In America it’s not uncommon for families to disburse around the country, to move and get ahead. There’s this great sense of freedom in America. Like you can do anything you want.
What do you think are the bad aspects?
Italians often don’t think beyond their small worlds, beyond their communities, beyond Italy. Americans lose sight of what’s important. Family. Friends. Simple things, like sharing a meal. We put our elderly in homes as opposed to living with them. What I wouldn’t give to live near one of my siblings presently, or my mother, who lives on the opposite side of the country.
You seemed very scathing about Jill's way of life at times. Do you think that Americans and Australians can be too cowardly about getting off 'the treadmill'? (NB: I should have included the British here).
I think we don’t know any better. It’s how we are raised. It’s in our culture to thrive and succeed. A lot of what drives people is fear—fear of failure, of getting your heart broken, of pain. You almost need to fall off the treadmill in order to get off it. Something must happen beyond your control to throw you off, and suddenly you’re viewing life from a different perspective. It’s what happens to Jamie.
Do you think that some people find it harder than others to learn about the important things in life?
It’s so hard to say. Some people go on and on and are happy. Their psyche is wired so that they believe whatever they are doing makes them happy. Others struggle and struggle. What’s important to one person might not be important to another. I often envy the people who can simply be happy. Don’t agonize. Sometimes I feel like they are the lucky ones.
This is getting a bit long, I'm sorry, but I'd love to learn your advice to aspiring fiction writers?
Four words: Sit. Down. And. Write.
Write and write and write even if you have to throw most of it away. There will be something left. And it will be beautiful. Inspiring. What you write next might even be better. It’s a lot of hard work. But it can be done. It’s not beyond your reach. It’s up to you.
Yesterday I sat for two hours trying to figure out what my character would do next. I barely wrote a few sentences. But I liked those sentences. And today’s a new day.