introducing readers to writers since 1995

April 01, 2004

But Did the First Lady Have to Get On the Horn?

by Ron Hogan

mcewan.gifNational Book Award winner Ian McEwan was stopped at the Canadian border and denied entry into the U.S. because he didn't have a visa, as I first learned from Sarah. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has more details on the holdup, which resulted when "the size of his projected earnings from his talks raised issues with authorities about whether they exceeded honoraria (allowed under a tourist visa) and tipped over into substantial income (requiring a work visa)." This, by the way, sounds to me like a legitimate legalistic quibble--not the most brilliant situation in the world, and maybe not handled as perfectly as we'd all like, but hardly arbitrary or even "politically" motivated.

Everything was cleared up in time for McEwan's scheduled Seattle lecture, but he had to miss dinner with Jonathan Raban, who complained:

"What is so irritating here is that all this effort was expended on somebody who posed no threat to this country at all. Authorities knew who McEwan was, yet they put him through 30 hours of pure Kafka."

Somehow I don't think sitting in a hotel room waiting for consular officials to call you back really constitutes "pure Kafka," no matter how aggravating it might be. Surely diluted Kafka at best, unless he woke up Wednesday morning as a dung beetle. But it'll make for a story the next time McEwan gets together with fans like Tony Blair and Laura Bush.

Before all the hassles began, Patrick O'Kelley (nice to see another former Amazonian making good) got McEwan to open up about his writing, including this insight into how a novel begins:

"There is a kind of necessity in silence and waiting and receptivity--waiting for the happy accident, the paragraph or set of messages that can nudge you into the sort of thing that you can live with for the next two or three years."

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