The exposure of a married New Yorker’s secret life with a Thai woman has long-ranging consequences in Silber’s Secrets of Happiness (Counterpoint, May.).
What made you want to write about characters from Thailand?
I first traveled to Southeast Asia in 2001 and loved it on sight, having spent the most time in Thailand and Laos. I was originally attracted to the region because of my interest in Buddhism. It’s a place where nonaggression is valued, so people don’t believe in being confrontational and it’s a big affront if anybody is. And I love that.
Where did the idea for a plot about a family man with a double life come from?
I was talking with a friend and she knew someone who discovered that her husband had this other family, and she ended up traveling abroad as well. Whenever I’ve given readings from that chapter, somebody comes up to me afterward and says, “I had an uncle like that.” So, I think double families are much more common than I had imagined.
Why did you decide to write from so many different perspectives?
I’ve been doing my own version of linked stories and novels that are in pieces for a while and I feel like I’ve done my best work in that mode. The thing I love about this form is that one part of it will generate ideas for another part. I’m very interested in shifting perspectives, that there isn’t just one way to tell the story. That’s my happiest habit as a writer.
Your novel is anchored with the theme of forbidden and secret relationships. What makes them so interesting?
We always want to know about people’s secrets. It’s in the title for that reason. The part of life that someone is hiding I think is forever fascinating to us. When I titled the book, I was thinking about secrets in two ways. One was that the husband has had this secret life for decades that no one’s known about, and the other is that the wife really finds in some ways her own secret to happiness. She really comes out of it more solid than anyone else in the story. I was interested in the resources she brings into the situation and the stuff she takes out of it.
What do you want readers to come away with after reading Secrets of Happiness?
That it’s much better to be generous than not. And to appreciate different perspectives; that your story isn’t the only one. My mother used to say—as mothers did then—“You’re not the only pebble on the beach.”