If your copy of the book didn't come with the Reader's Guide you can find it here. It includes an interview with novelist Jennifer Egan. A few additional interviews of note:
A few weeks later, she travelled to Serbia to visit his grave. "It's in the family crypt, which he and I used to wash together when I was a child, because his mother is buried there." Obreht isn't religious – her grandfather was a Roman Catholic from Slovenia, her grandmother is a Muslim from Bosnia, and while they observed cultural traditions, her engagement has never gone further than that. She found herself thinking, "how can people suppose there's something after death, when really it's just your body going into the ground? The reality was very difficult to reconcile with the idea of this as a holy process. I couldn't work it out. Which led to the thought: you're going to die some day too. Which led to several years of being very careful crossing the street."The Rumpus:
Rumpus: You write very convincingly about the lives of adolescents in a war torn country — it’s eat, drink, be merry because there’s a war on. Were you old enough to be cognizant of what was going on in Yugoslavia? Where does that come from?Powells:
Obreht: I think that a lot of the places that I moved to were places that had political problems and tensions that aren’t necessarily present in more Western locales right now. I think that, even though I was decidedly too young to appreciate what was going on in Yugoslavia at the time, but from having returned there many times since moving to the States, I got the general feeling, from conversations with people my own age and with people who’ve lived there and people we left behind, that there’s this, “life goes on” attitude. People deal with strife by just doing every day things.
Jill: The contrast of the modern and scientific with the ritual, superstitious, and mythic makes the book feel epic as well as specific in its exploration of grief and loss, both personal and national.And don't miss this Harpers article, "Twilight of the Vampires", by Obreht which informed the story of the 'deathless man.' Because I am an ethnomusicology geek, I need to investigate the gusla. Wikipedia is helpful and here are some additional sound files from the Library of Congress.
Obreht: I think that it was very clear early on with the story of the tiger and the girl that the question of myth and reality was going to be a big one, and a very important factor in the whole book. The fact that Natalia and Zóra are doctors, and the grandfather, too, also happened very organically. I have a friend who's a doctor in Serbia, and I know through her anecdotes, that in places where superstition and homeopathy, in some ways, are the standard approach of the people, there's a great conflict with science. This is something my friend had to navigate pretty much every day and negotiate with people and their beliefs. Some of the superstitions are very, very prevalent. Yet, in some places there, you really feel like it's a culture on the brink of leaving those ancient beliefs behind. And, so, it came very naturally. Somebody once said, the universal is in the specifics, so, hopefully, it is the specifics that made it that way.
Finally, we didn't really plan for this, but we somehow managed to be reading this book at the time of the twentieth anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo. See NPR's story here. Read Amnesty International's plea for justice for justice for war-time survivors of sexual violence here.