Book Talk: Egypt, Montana and Evel Knievel focus of new book

Thu Jul 26, 2012 9:22am EDT
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Khosi Saqr lives in Butte, Montana, birthplace of motorcycle rider Evel Knievel, but he has never felt quite at home. Then a mysterious stranger appears in town, launching him on a path that leads to Egypt and the father who abandoned him.

Khosi, the half-Egyptian hero of "Evel Knievel Days," was inspired partly by author Pauls Toutonghi's own background as the son of a Latvian mother and Egyptian father, and his desire to reconnect with his Egyptian roots, which led him to Egypt in March 2011 after the protests that swept President Hosni Mubarak from power.

Toutonghi spoke with Reuters about his book, writing and his views of the state of fiction today.

Q: Why this character, why Butte, why Evel Knievel?

A: "It's kind of an unlikely mix. Well, I fell in love with Butte at a very young age. I love all these northern U.S. cities. My first book was set in Milwaukee. I love Detroit, these northern industrial cities that have a legacy of industrial expansion.

"In the case of Butte, it's mineral wealth that drove its expansion, and it was huge. It was a boom town. In 1890 it was the largest city west of the Mississippi; it had 110,000 residents, the first electrified city in the country. There's something really powerful for me in places that were once something and have fallen on hard times and are now much less grand. It's just because there's a lack there that you don't always get in American settings and American culture.

"I spent a lot of time in Montana when I was a kid. My parents and I would go on long road trips from Seattle. So I'd been through Butte. I could picture it really well, sort of in the way that a child would imagine it, a distant memory of it. So I was thinking I had always wanted to set something there, and I started writing and it took off."

Q: You had the setting in mind. Did you come up with the characters first, or work from an image?   Continued...