Lindsay Lerman, the author of a new novel titled “I’m From Nowhere,” was born in the Chicago area and attended Northern Arizona University for her undergraduate studies and later received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Guelph in Canada.
It’s a very timely novel, given the situation the world is in now in terms climate change and ecological worries. I asked her a few questions by email about the book and its genesis.
“It’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with impending extinction,” Lerman told me in a recent email about some of the themes in her novel. “We see more evidence of it everyday, and it gets more and more real, but it’s so unthinkable that it actually doesn’t get more real for most of us. We just carry on.”
When I asked her if she thinks we humans will go extinct soon, or if not soon, what kind of time frame she envisions, she said: “There is abundant evidence of extinction and attendant global emergencies in [my novel], but it’s in the background (or “subcutaneous,” as a friend put it), just as it is for most of us in our day to day lives.”
“So are we humans set on a path to extinction?” I asked.
“This is a big question,” she said. “I want to start by making it clear that I am not a scientist, and although I read the scientific literature as closely as I can, I think it would be irresponsible of me to make specific predictions about timeframe. But in general, yes, I’m referring to the Sixth Great Extinction. When I say that it’s unthinkable, I mean that we can read about the fact that roughly 200 species go extinct everyday, and we can understand that as a fact that has (and will have) a bearing on every part of our lives, but there’s a disconnect.”
”We see the cost of food rising, the cost of housing rising, we feel that the weather is
different each year — seems to follow new patterns — but adding it all up is intellectually and
emotionally taxing, so I think many times we stop short of adding it up. Some people in
some parts of the world don’t have this luxury of not adding it up — they’re fleeing areas
without water and other natural resources–and the effects of ecological catastrophe are
felt by them in more immediate ways.”
When I asked what the title of her novel “I’m From Nowhere” means, Lerman said: “I initially picked it because it just felt right. I didn’t quite know why I was selecting it. But now I think I can say that the title reflects the protagonist’s struggle with making sense
of herself and her place in the world. We like to have a clear sense of who and what we are, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen for us. We don’t always know who we are, what we are, where we belong, where we’re going. Sometimes we don’t even know where
Is her novel cli-fi or sci-fi or literary fiction? Or does she prefer a different way to classify it or label it?
“I’m not sure how to classify it,” she said. “It’s probably some kind of literary fiction. It’s cli-fi insofar as the climate is itself a character (though one could say every piece of artwork that features the world is cli-fi, but that’s another discussion). But Claire, the main character, is not separable from the climate. She is unable to separate herself from the environment; the climate is not some thing over which she has clear dominion and can ‘protect’ or whatever. She is subject to the same forces as every other living thing. She’s tyrannized by all of it, powerless to stop it or change it.”
I’m curious, since I’m Jewish myself, and given her last name of Lerman, and I wanted to ask Lindsay if she was Jewish? And if was, did her Jewish upbringing have anything to do with the way she approached this novel and the theme of possible species extinction, including human extinction?
”My father’s family is Ashkenazi Jewish, yes,” Lerman said. “It depends on what you consider the ‘tradition,’ but I wasn’t really raised in the traditional Jewish way all that much. But I can tell you that one of my favorite parts of Jewish tradition, as I experienced it in my family, however, is continual questioning.”
”From a really young age, maybe around 6 or 7, I remember my grandfather asking questions about matters that I had previously taken to be settled. He’d ask me why I was wearing what I was wearing, why I had the friends I had, why I read the books I was reading. As a child, I thought of all the questioning as a nuisance, but as I grew (and particularly as I started studying philosophy), I understood it as a gift,” Lerman said.
“I also remember that it was important to my grandfather that I learn how to produce certain sounds present in (spoken) Hebrew. He would ask me to practice them, so that I didn’t lose the ability to produce them,” she added.
Lindsay Lerman is not from nowhere, and as an American writer, she’s someone to watch.