Being Kari: an interview with Qarnita Loxton

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Being Kari
Qarnita Loxton
Publisher: Kwela
ISBN: 9780795708015

Authors on their new books: Qarnita Loxton chats to Naomi Meyer about Loxton's book Being Kari.

1. Qarnita, congratulations on the publication of your book Being Kari. What is your book about?

Thank you. Being Kari is about a Capetonian woman, Kari, who finds out on Valentine’s Day that her husband has had an affair. On the same day, her grandmother dies and she is called back into contact with her estranged Muslim family, who all know her as Karima. The book is about finding love, identity and friendship. It sounds quite dire, but there are many funny moments, even if I say so myself!

2. Please tell me a bit about the characters Kari and Dirk. Who are they?

Kari is the protagonist in this novel, and she is married to Dirk. She is the kind of woman who gets excited by Valentine’s Day, has too many shoes and has a tendency to avoid issues until it is nearly too late. Her husband, Dirk, is a one-line texter who doesn’t buy Valentine’s cards, but, nevertheless, saves all the ones Kari gives him in his sock drawer. She is from a Muslim family and he is from an Afrikaans one. They are not the couple that everyone’s eyes will automatically put together, but they are largely happy … until their relationship is rocked – properly – by Dirk’s infidelity.

3. "In the end Allah judges you, not me." This is from a letter by Kari's Ouma. Is guilt a part of Kari's journey?

I understand guilt to mean a feeling that comes when you have done something legally or morally wrong, and Kari certainly does struggle with this along her journey. The conflict is that she is not always convinced that she is guilty in this sense, though others do see her as guilty, and that is what comes out in Ouma’s letter. Mostly, Kari has overriding feelings of regret – she wishes she had dealt with situations in a different way that would have caused less pain. That regret is a motive for her reconnecting with her family.

4. On the cover of the book, one reads: "Sometimes finding love means going back to where you came from." Tell me about the country Kari grew up in, and the one she lives in now. Are these countries (the same one!) really so different from each other?

Kari grew up in Walmer Estate and now lives in Blouberg, two areas half an hour’s drive apart in Cape Town, South Africa. These areas are intended to represent Kari’s two completely different experiences of life, the one more traditional than the other. I think that, in South Africa, one of the many side effects of the segregation of apartheid is that it created very tight communities in certain areas, with little to no opportunity for interaction between them. I believe it is still a reality that very different communities exist relatively closely in proximity, but with little understanding of one another. I think that, in post-apartheid South Africa, communities are beginning to connect through work, friendships, relationships and marriage. They are finding out about each other’s “countries” and cultures in very personal ways, and there is still a need for far greater connection in our country among our communities. My book touches on the obviously significant differences in these “countries”, and the unexpected similarities, from food to our experience of love.

5. Did Kari, in the end, find peace? Or love? Or anything else? Maybe, if the answer to this question gives away too much: what discoveries did she make along the way?

In the end – and there is never really an ending to this kind of story – Kari finds a way to be herself and to go forward with her family and friends. That there is no perfect ending is possibly the ultimate discovery she makes.

6. Where did you get the idea(s) for this story?

The advice I got when I decided to write a novel was to write something I myself would like to read. I most enjoy stories about friendship, relationships and love. Originally, I wanted to write a Cape Town version of Sex and the city, and you will see there is a strong friendship circle in the book. Kari’s name is a play on the lead character of Carrie in Sex and the city. I also wanted to write about an adult love relationship, and in the Cape Town context, it seemed authentic to include an intercultural relationship which raised questions of identity. As a woman with a Muslim heritage, I had an awareness of the potential cultural conflicts that could arise. The story of Kari grew from all these threads.

7. Please elaborate a bit on your writing process, the putting together of the story. Also: do you have a writing routine? Do you write every day?

I start with a mind map of a story or a scene, more or less in the style of Writing the natural way by Gabriele Rico. The idea is to write down freely whatever thoughts come, without being critical of them. From there, I look at which themes come out the strongest, and build on them until it starts to look like something interesting. Once I have a story line, I plan it more carefully, looking at dates and how the plot will progress. A lot changes from start to finish.

I have a flexible writing routine. I write most days, but not every day, and not for the same amount of time every day. This is partly because I don’t always have the same amounts of time available, and also because I find that a break gives me time to think and lets me look at what I’ve written with fresh eyes.

8. Why did you write this book, if it is possible to answer this question. Or: why write at all?

I have always loved writing and have written bits and pieces, including a blog, over the years, but I never imagined I could write anything longer than 500 words. When the opportunity came to write a novel, I took it on and I found I completely loved it. The process and experience of writing is creatively and intellectually challenging for me, and I become completely absorbed in it. Ultimately, the real reason I write is that I find it a fun thing to do.

9. Who are your favourite writers, or what are you reading at the moment?

At the moment, I am reading the books of fellow panelists from the 2017 Franschhoek Literary Festival: Pamela Power’s Delilah now trending, Ekow Duker’s The God who made mistakes, Marcus Low’s Asylum and Paul McNally’s The street. I am enjoying them all immensely, as they have each opened up different parts of the South African experience.

10 Are you busy writing anything else? Anything you want to say about this – your writing or not writing at present?

I am working on a sequel to Being Kari, where her friend Lily is the protagonist. It follows on in time from Being Kari, but it is an independent story. I am loving it.

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  • Willie van Aswegen

    Die onderhoud is inderdaad 'n aptytwekker en noop mens om graag die boek te wil lees.
    Welgedaan Naomi!

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