books: Invisible Barriers 

In his first novel, an award-winning director tackles Western culture and its blindnesses.

As the novel opens, Lewis' plane to South Africa is forced to make an emergency landing in the Congo. Suddenly, Lewis is plunged into a world where all of his values are meaningless, and he must relearn everything he knows in order to survive. Lewis, lost and desperate in the rain forest, is saved by Kofi, a young Congolese boy, who teaches him of the ways of this new harsh world. Lewis' struggle with the jungle awakens him to the barriers between him and his family, as well as how to overcome them.

While Lewis' story is one of redemption and spiritual rebirth, the author also shows the struggle of those who are left behind. Helen is plagued with the agony of not knowing what happened to Lewis. Even though everyone tells her that Lewis must have perished, Helen and Shane fly to the Congo to search for him. In her search Helen finds what she thought she had lost in her relationship with Lewis. Throughout the novel Stevens' talent as a storyteller paints a sensational picture for the reader — one that is as compelling as it is touching.

Style: Where did the idea for this book come from? Was it based on any of your own personal experience?

Marcus Stevens: It wasn't based on a real experience but from ideas I had while traveling in Africa. I'd traveled throughout Africa and had seen all the different regions and environments. Originally, the book was to take place in the Sudan. Then, when I was traveling Western Africa, exploring the rain forests, I knew I had to change it. If I was in a place like that without a compass or a trail, I know I would get lost after just 100 yards. I had an experience getting lost in the Rockies, and you can walk in circles, crossing over your own tracks. ... it's terrible. There's something about getting lost and losing your bearings that makes you change. In the book when Lewis gets lost, he realizes that what he has built his life around was laughable. Getting lost becomes an opportunity for redemption for him. He must make a leap of faith and not depend on the Western ideals he is used to.

So is there something about Lewis' plight that is universal? Something we must all go through?

I don't think it's universal. I think it is something specific to the Western culture. We create obstacles and barriers for ourselves in the West that Eastern cultures don't. I was trying to explore this. Western culture is in a kind of box. I was hoping that by exposing somebody like Lewis to another culture I could capture how this box can collapse. My idea for doing this came from a book called "Madness and Modernism." In this book there is the idea that chronic schizophrenia and modernism are linked together. Both are specifically prevalent in developed cultures. Schizophrenia, in the book, is just a reaction to our modern structure. Technology separates us from our planet. Flying in an airplane over the jungle, looking down at the forest we are separated. I started to think, what if you aren't just flying over it? What if you're in it?

Your book is filled with rich and vivid descriptions, but a major theme within it is blindness, from a symbolic blindness to an actual physical blindness. Why did you choose this contradiction to focus on?

Blindness is just another barrier of perception. For Lewis he doesn't feel like he can get across this barrier with his son who is blind. Lewis has to go through his own blindness to realize that he can cross these barriers. He can only do this by making a leap of faith. When he's lost he's forced to do this, and by taking this leap he's able to bring himself back.

Since you began your career as an award-winning commercial director, was writing a novel a kind of leap of faith for you as well?

Yeah, I think so. When you put yourself out there in a field that is completely new. Before I became a director I went to film school and came into commercials through that route.

Do you think your involvement with film helped you to write your novel?

I'm absolutely sure of that. I see scenes and details, and that's my background. I took screenwriting classes in college and there's no question that that was a major influence. There's a way of storytelling with screenwriting that's different. How it communicates is entirely different. In screenwriting you have to get a lot of information about your characters by showing them in action. I think that people who have read the book sense that.

What is your next project?

Well, "The Curve of the World" is actually my second novel. I wrote one before it and I shopped it around, but I couldn't get it picked up. Now, I've sold it to a publishing company, but for the last six months I've been going through revisions of it. What's strange is that I don't think I could have written "The Curve of the World" without this first novel. But without "The Curve of the World" I don't think I could have made the changes I have to the first one in order to make it as good as it should be. S

The Junior League of Richmond and the Retail Merchants Association will welcome five national authors to Richmond on May 2, for the 57th Book and Author Dinner at the Richmond Marriott, 500 East Broad St. This year's panel features: Terrence Cheng, Anne de Courcy, Sally Mandel, Marcus Stevens and Helen Thomas. For more information contact: Kathy Wright, at 288-5179, Kbwwrv@aol.com or Molly Negus, at 364-1332, Mrnegus@aol.com.


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