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How A Stolen Backpack In Casablanca Inspired A Novel About Shifting Identity

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Her husband, Dave Eggers, founded the literary journal McSweeney's. Vida's new novel, "The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty," was one of the four books our critic, Maureen Corrigan, recommended for early summer reading. Maureen described it as both a travel cautionary tale and a fantasy about the infinite possibility that travel offers. The main character is a woman who has left her husband and wants to get far away. When the novel opens, she's on a plane to Morocco. As soon as she checks into her hotel in Casablanca, her backpack is stolen and she's left without credit cards, passport or any form of ID. The police investigating the theft give her a backpack, but it's not hers. She keeps it anyways, uses the passport inside and assumes the identity of the person it belongs to, which leads to deeper shifts in her sense of self.

Vendela Vida, welcome to FRESH AIR. I think, for so many of us,rolex date just replica, you know, when we travel to another place particularly if it's a foreign country there's this feeling of dislocation when you get off, in the plane, in a place you've never been to and you're so tired and disoriented from the long plane ride and the time zone change and the cultural differences, and you sometimes just ask yourself, what am I doing here?

VIDA: Sounds good. (Reading) You can't wait to check into your hotel room. You pass by an upscale Regency Hotel, an expensive looking Sofitel, and when the driver says your hotel is close, you're happy because you think your hotel might be on par with these other tall, glassy buildings. You've been told your hotel, the Golden Tulip, is comfortable, and you've been looking forward to this comfort on the plane and in the van. But as you approach, you're disappointed. The Golden Tulip has a glossy, black entrance with two long banners one advertising its restaurant and another advertising its pool. It looks like a typical tourist hotel, the kind that large groups might stay at for two nights before going to the next city on their itinerary. As a driver pulls up, you see and hear American and British tourists emerging from the front door. You're deflated, but what did you expect, that it would be full of locals? It's a hotel.

The driver opens the side door of the van and retrieves your suitcase from the rear. dollars because it's all you have. cash. You tip the driver with a $20 bill. Later, you will wonder if this was your initial mistake. You pass through a security portal as you enter the hotel, the kind you go through at an airport, but you keep your backpack on and hold the handle of your suitcase. Bellboys offer to take your bags and you tell them you can manage. Or rather, you smile and say, no, it's OK. I'm OK.

GROSS: Of course, as we'll hear in a second, it's really not OK (laughter).

GROSS: Things are not good. But let's talk about that feeling because so many people are traveling now, it's summer that feeling when you get off the plane and you're going to a hotel and you don't know what to expect and you're tired and exhausted and disoriented. Do you get that when you travel, this kind of feeling?

VIDA: Definitely. I feel like, you know, you get off the plane and the physical you has arrived, but it takes a while for the emotional and mental you to catch up. And you literally, sometimes, don't even have the currency of the country at hand. You know, you might have a credit card, but you don't actually have the actual cash currency that will help you navigate this new terrain.

GROSS: And, like, your character has asked for early check in, and of course a room isn't ready and. And she says, five actual minutes? (Laughter).

VIDA: There is this sense of time when you're traveling, that the time is not how you know it, but how a country knows it.

GROSS: Yes, and he says, five American minutes (laughter).

VIDA: Right. He's confirming her hypothesis, yeah.

GROSS: So after your character puts down her bags and doesn't let, you know, the bellboy or anybody else, like, carry them for her and she says, it's OK, I'm OK things aren't OK 'cause when she puts it down, her backpack is stolen, and that gets the whole plot in motion. And I know you had an experience of having something stolen when you were in Casablanca, but I don't know what that thing was.

VIDA: A couple years ago, my husband and I were traveling to Morocco, and we had a similar experience in that we were checking in to a hotel called the Golden Tulip which I, you know,rolex date imitation, I definitely put that in the book because I felt that they should take some responsibility. But anyway (laughter),replica rolex day date womens, we were checking into the Golden Tulip, which is just an average tourist hotel, and while we were checking in and filling out the passport forms, my backpack was stolen. And it had everything in it. It had a laptop computer with my book I was currently working on, which I hadn't been very good about backing up. It had, you know, my wallet. It had everything I wanted for the trip. I had my passport in my hand, so fortunately unlike the protagonist in my book I did have my passport still.

GROSS: In the book, the police chief tells your character not to worry, he's a hundred percent confident that the police will catch the thief. And she thinks, not 95 percent, even? Like, a hundred percent like, how can you be a hundred percent confident? And he ends up giving her.

VIDA: It was funny, 'cause when we checked in when we did talk to the police chief, you know, my husband and I found ourselves watching the surveillance camera of the in the hotel, seeing what had happened. It was actually really interesting. I really recommend the experience not of having your stuff stolen in a foreign country that experience, I do not recommend. But if you do have that experience, I highly recommend watching the surveillance video because it's really interesting to see how it was really interesting for me to see how the backpack was stolen and how it was actually a ring of three people who were working together. They were all wearing suits and badges so they would look official and like they were part of a conference at the hotel. And seeing myself on the surveillance camera, being completely unaware of everything going on around me was really intriguing. I also had a similar experience.

GROSS: Wait, let me stop you there 'cause this happens your character, except the people at the hotel don't even know how to work the security camera playback system so she has to (laughter) figure it out for them.

VIDA: She has to help them, that is true. I will say the book is entirely fictional, but I did use the opening the opening of the book is very much based on what happened to me, and the rest of the book just takes off into a fictional world.

GROSS: So, did you have to play back your own surveillance footage?

VIDA: I did have to play back my own surveillance.

VIDA: There were seven security people in the room and I had to play it back, and at first I didn't even recognize myself on the surveillance camera. You know, I even saw the moment where I looked down and my backpack wasn't there and I looked at my husband, and he said, where's your backpack? Did you forget it in the van? And so, we ended up going to the Casablanca police station and while I was there I was interviewed by three detectives who all sat like detectives. You know how detectives in, like, 1970s movies don't really sit in chairs or desks, they actually kind of lean against tables and desks?

VIDA: That's what these detectives were doing, and they all had the requisite little spiral notebooks that detectives have in movies. And they were asking me all sorts of really irrelevant questions, like, what was the profession of your great great grandfather? So questions that would really help, you know, secure the location of my backpack as soon as possible.

And while I was sitting there, Terry, I had the funniest experience. And at first, I was just I was so upset. We'd just arrived, everything was gone, this book I'd been working on was gone. And but while I was sitting there, answering all these very irrelevant questions, I started thinking about this novel idea I'd had this idea for this novel I'd about the malleability of identity. And it's this novel that's been circling in my head for a few years and I'd written passages, but I'd never known exactly how the book would start. I hadn't found my way into the book, you know, the entree into it. And so while I was sitting there with these detectives, I suddenly realized that this was my opening a woman arriving in Casablanca and having her stuff stolen and, you know, in this case, the protagonist having her passport stolen. And so suddenly I became the happiest person, I think,rolex day date ii imitation, the police station had ever seen. And my mood I just became elated. I answered every one of the detectives' questions you know, it was just elation and pure joy, and I think my attitude really confused the detectives and the chief of police.

GROSS: Well, the way this sets off this shift in identity for your main character is, the chief of police who's assured her that there's a hundred percent chance that they're going to, you know, return her backpack the chief of police eventually turns over a backpack. And he doesn't use words like, your backpack it's like, here's the backpack, or, here's a backpack. And he doesn't really claim that it's hers, but he expects her to accept that, and she does. She accepts it and she takes this, like, stranger's passport and IDs and credit card, and tries to work with that. And it just opens up all these possibilities for her to take on different identities and, you know, play with who she is. I doubt your story had that kind of outcome.

VIDA: My story did not have that kind of outcome, despite the police chief's assurances that it was a hundred percent likely I would get my backpack back, I did not.

VIDA: He really said it. Someone else told me recently that if he had really been serious, he would've said 150 percent, but he was giving himself some leeway (laughter) by saying a hundred percent. But that's you know, I'm really influenced by films when I'm writing, and I you know, I really love the film, "The Passenger" by Antonioni, and I was thinking that this would be a pivotal moment in the novel where she would take someone else's identity, much like Jack Nicholson's character in "The Passenger" takes on someone else's identity. And that's how the fictional adventure in "The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty" begins. Her new novel is called, "The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty." She's also the co founder of the literary magazine The Believer. Let's take a short break, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.

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