In Salesses’s novel, Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear (Little A, Aug.), a Korean American man feels invisible and might have a doppelgänger, and a white supremacist is running for president.
Your novel is prefaced by “An Abbreviated List of Disappearances,” including the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and 1924 Immigration Act. What’s its function?
I think a lot of Asian Americans don’t know about their own history of disappearance. It’s a constant fight for an Asian American person to appear in American society, and to appear in a way that also in itself isn’t another kind of disappearance.
You’ve spoken about being a Korean adoptee, a subject your characters grapple with. How does this connect with the doppelgänger theme?
I’ve been having these conversations with other adoptee writers for a couple years now about how many doppelgängers seem to be showing up in adoptee poetry and fiction, and I think there’s this obvious thing about being transplanted from one life into the other and wondering what your life would have been like if you’d been raised in the country where you were born. “What if that life you could have lived is still going on?” And so doppelgängers are a way to explore that.
The narrator, Matt, describes his experience in other surreal terms as well. What interests you about surrealism?
Julio Cortázar said something that questioned magical realism, that life is weird and surreal already. I feel like life for Matt and Asian Americans and maybe people in general in the United States is a very strange and surreal thing, and the only way to express that reality was to make it more real, more than a book about a domestic drama.
Could you talk about the humor in the book, which is at play amid subjects like loss, white supremacy, and grief?
I mean, we all need humor, right? I think a lot of the humor is language-based. There are a lot of puns and plays on colloquialism and stuff. For me, I think—you know, all the power dynamics that people are protesting now are actually inscribed into the language itself. I remember doing readings from my last book, and you know it’s just not funny to other people, even though there are small things that I think are funny on a personal level, the readings hardly ever make people laugh, and so I would make jokes before the reading. With this book, I thought, I have to write something I can read better and make people laugh with.