St. Olaf professor’s pandemic-themed debut novel generates media buzz
The debut novel by St. Olaf College Associate Professor of English Sequoia Nagamatsu is generating buzz in the literary world and a wave of media attention, including in recent reviews and interviews in the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and The New York Times.
For a feature story, Nagamatsu spoke with Star Tribune book editor Laurie Hertzel about what inspired How High We Go in the Dark, a novel that delves into climate change, a world-altering pandemic, and the ways in which people deal with loss, grief, and uncertainty. Hertzel calls Nagamatsu’s novel “weirdly wonderful and weirdly powerful, a book of speculative fiction so close to real life that it’s heart-stopping events feel almost inevitable.”
In a separate piece, Star Tribune reviewer Kathleen Rooney praised Nagamatsu’s “strange and sensitive epic,” calling it “refreshing for its resistance to easy dystopian tropes and its commitment to the emotions of wonder and hope, even in the face of grief.”
Nagamatsu, who teaches first-year writing and creative writing courses at St. Olaf, tells the Star Tribune that while the novel’s themes are timely, the work was not inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic. He began contemplating the ideas explored in How High We Go in the Dark in 2007, when he traveled to Japan after the death of his grandfather.
While he worked on the novel, Nagamatsu published Where We Go When All We Were is Gone, a story collection inspired by Japanese folklore and pop culture.
He tells the Star Tribune that writing How High We Go in the Dark during the pandemic helped “keep him afloat” and process his own personal losses in a turbulent time.
“When not a lot of other things were going right in the world, there was this book,” Nagamatsu says.