2005-08-01

Ballantine Reader's Circle





UNTIL I FIND YOU by John Irving

At long last, those of us who have been counting the days for another Irving masterpiece can breath a sigh of relief.

This robust and comic novel will no doubt gratify all the Irving fanatics out there (yes, I am among you). With his trademark talent for storytelling, John Irving unravels the tale of actor Jack Burns - his life, loves, celebrity and astonishing search for the truth about his parents.

We learn about tattoo addiction and movie cross-dressing, "sleeping in the needles" and the cure for cauliflower ears. And John Irving renders his protagonist's unusual rise through Hollywood with the same vivid detail and range of emotions he gives to the organ music Jack hears as a child in European churches. This is an absorbing book about obsession, loss, truth and the signs we carry on us and inside us, the traces we can't get rid of.

In this exclusive interview, John Irving sheds light on the fascinating tattoo culture, which is a prominent theme in this book:

Q: How did you research tattoo culture? Did you visit many parlors?

JI: In A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR, when I was doing research in Amsterdam with a policeman-about the details concerning the murder of a prostitute-the policeman introduced me to Amsterdam's most famous tattoo artist, Henk Schiffmacher. His tattoo name is Hanky Panky, but the police in Amsterdam used him as a handwriting analyst; he was also good at deciphering partial fingerprints. I already knew him. He was the first person I turned to for my tattoo research. Meeting Henk led me to making connections with other tattoo artists in those North Sea ports. I visited more than a dozen tattoo parlors in Europe; several in the U.S. and Canada, too, and I went to many tattoo conventions. I got two tattoos, so I knew what it felt like to be tattooed, and I learned how to tattoo. I gave a woman in Amsterdam a tattoo on her forearm. It was a sprig of holly to cover up a former boyfriend's name. She must not have liked my work, because when I met her for dinner a few years later, she had covered up my cover-up with a third tattoo.

Q: Have you met any "collectors," like Jack's dad, William Burns? What do you think drives this particular obsession?

JI:
I have met a few collectors. They often don't know why they can't stop; the reasons vary. People are obsessed by different demons; it's impossible to generalize the motives of tattoo addicts, just as there is no single reason, medically, why many full-body types feel cold. But many of them do. Jack comes to the conclusion that his father has had the sort of life that might make anyone feel cold; maybe the tattoos have nothing to do with it.

To read more of this interview, click HERE.