Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write a novel. Blood Kin, the result of that work, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim: the novel was shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Informed by Dovey's South African roots, the novel tells the story of a fictional military coup from the perspective of the overthrown leader's portraitist, chef, and barber. Dovey is currently completing a PhD in Anthropology at New York University. Dovey doesn't see a conflict between her two passions. "Both anthropology and good fiction are full of thick description and a layering of detail," she says.
Question: What is “Blood Kin”?
Dovey: So “Blood Kin” is . . . I would call it a fable of power. And it’s . . . It tracks a president of an unknown country’s depose. And his chef, and barber, and portraitist are imprisoned after the coup and are forced to sort of account for what they’ve done, and how they’ve inadvertently propped up his regime even though they worked for him in a kind of non-political capacity. They still, just by sort of nourishing him or rendering his . . . his portrait, or by grooming him have . . . have lent him a kind of legitimacy. And then the significant women in their lives speak in turn. And they are meant to sort of signal the kind of moral and psychological fallout in a political situation where there’s a corrupt leader, and how that’s sort of trickled down to the general population.
Question: Why is there a gender split?
Dovey: I think I wanted to get at this issue of women not simply being victims. So I started out with the male voices and then realized that they needed a counter balancing force where these women are not sitting in the shadows waiting for their men. They are just as implicated in the cycles of abuse that are set in motion, whether they are personal or political. And so it’s meant to kind of show, I guess, the pain and the hurt that’s inflicted by the men that ___________ has also been __________ by them at the hands of the women.