Interview with/ Entretien avec Noelle Q. de Jesus

Le 30 juillet 2016

Bilingual interview (English/French)
Entretien bilingue (anglais/français)

Noelle & PatriciaPhoto de Patricia : Eric Grange (tous droits réservés)
Photo de Noelle : tous droits réservés

A few months ago, I translated a short story entitled Passport into French, originally written in English by Filipino writer Noelle Q. de Jesus, for publication in the fourth edition of the French magazine Jentayu. Passport is taken from Blood – Collected stories, Noelle Q. de Jesus’ first book of short fiction.

I really enjoyed translating Passport and discussing with Noelle. So I decided to have an interview with her about her and her work, about Passport and Blood, and to share this interview with her readers and mine.

The French version of this interview can be found here on Jentayu’s website. And here’s the original one:

The theme of this issue of Jentayu magazine is “Maps and Territories”. Noelle, you’re a Filipino writer, born in the US and living in Singapore. How do you place yourself on a map? Would you describe yourself as a person of multiple identities?

What a wonderful question and delightfully complex. In many ways, my writing life has been a way of grappling with that very question in my fiction. I am American by accident, born to Filipino parents who happened to be in the US pursuing their education. This is why I carry a US passport. I am, however, very Filipino and I identify culturally with Filipinos in the Philippines as well as overseas, and yes, in the latter group, we are quite a number. I speak and understand Tagalog, I am highly aware of the Filipino « English » that we use, and my humour is decidedly, largely, Filipino. I have to admit though, that due to a very peculiar combination of family background, upbringing and my own personality, I am not typically Filipino. Some of my ideas and beliefs about women, about sex, about marriage would perhaps adhere more closely to an American outlook. Finally, in the last 16 years that I have lived in Singapore, this small and extraordinary city state has become my home, and I love all its paradoxes, what it has achieved and even have a hope for what both the Philippines and the US might be able to learn from Singapore’s successes. Where do I place myself on the map? If I must, I locate my self upon the map of my mind — which traces paths between and among all three places. Multiple identities? Certainly, but I do think that the whole is more than just the sum of its parts. I am more than my Filipino self, more than my American self, and very very much more than Singapore. Those who read my work will sense a bit of the outsider looking in — as this can be me—in all three countries and their respective cultures, but because I write fiction, I can also be the insider… looking out. It is an issue of identity, which is also a theme that I write about, was fairly easy to resolve. I claim all three countries.

Your short story, Passport, tells about distance, crossing borders, separation, longing. Are these ideas important in your writing work?

Yes, yes, and yes. Having left the Philippines as an adult of 18, I know too well the experience of separation and longing for home, and because so many of my fellow Filipinos, men too but plenty of women, are forced to do this for their families, to leave their home and forge new lives in order that they might help their children, their parents, their siblings, these issues figure very much in most of what I’ve written, if not all. I was not forced to leave my home, I chose to — to pursue education in the US partly to make this country part of my heart, and the result is that that choice has made it difficult to live completely happily and content in either country. Perhaps this is also why I sought a third. At any rate, this friction, this push-and-pull between the beloved home and the exciting « faraway » will continue to be an element in my fiction for a long time, if not forever. So far, as a topic, I must say it has been inexhaustible.

Passport is a very short, yet striking story. It’s the voice of a woman talking to another woman, the voice of a mother talking to another mother. But it’s a silent voice. Those words will remain unspoken. And the repeated “nothing” is an echo of this silence. Are you fascinated and inspired by secret and the untold?

I truly admire your analysis and wish I could say that the repeat of « nothing » was deliberate and intentional, but it was more a result of instinct than anything else. I was aware when writing it that the « I » — this woman—would really never say these words out loud, nor even write them, if she even could. I saw the story as her defense for the crime she had committed. Some might even call it a petty crime, and certainly, she does that. But she explains why she had to. The answer to your question is yes. Yes, I am fascinated by the secret and the untold, the unspoken. Perhaps it is the gossip in me, the psychoanalyst. Because I know myself and I know people lie all the time. They lie to those they love. They lie to themselves. They keep secrets from the people who matter most to them. This silence has always interested me and made me curious. It goes back to when I was a child, and I felt adults always had secrets and I would always be given explanations that didn’t make sense. I yearned to know the truth, and the truth is what I try to write about — the truth about country, identity, sexuality, marriage, relationships, parenting. Nobody ever just tells the truth. Because it’s never ever that simple.

Tell us about Blood, your first collection of fiction, which Passport is taken from. How did the writing process go, and why this title, Blood?

BLOOD Collected Stories is my first book of fiction, and embarrassingly, more than 25 years in the making. It includes very early work written in the early 90s before I was married or even had children, alongside work that was written as late as 2015, which is when the book was published. All in all, it’s 25 stories of varying lengths — some traditional and some flash fiction. Some as long as 20 pages, and some stretching to barely two. In one way or another, these stories explore the themes we’ve been discussing — yearning for home, entanglements of the heart, the definitions of home, the search for true love, and coming of age — all the things that make the blood stir. I did not include several of my later stories because I felt they belonged thematically in another, different, more adult book. Because my publisher Ethos Books is in Singapore, I included three stories that feature Singaporean protagonists. The book is called Blood, following the usual convention of short story collections where the ultimately, the book title is also the title of one of the short stories. Blood, which is the final story in the collection, is told from the point-of-view of a ten year old girl who is caught between her mother from the Philippines and her old ways, and the other members of the family who have moved on, and who are living in the American world. Blood can be ordered from the Ethos Books Singapore website, and they ship overseas.


Il y a quelques mois, j’ai traduit depuis l’anglais une nouvelle intitulée Passport, de l’écrivain philippine Noelle Q. de Jesus. Cette traduction vient d’être publiée dans le 4ème numéro de la revue Jentayu dont le thème est « Cartes et Territoires ». Passport est extrait de Blood – Collected stories, premier recueil de nouvelles de Noelle Q. de Jesus.

J’ai eu énormément de plaisir à traduire Passport et à échanger avec Noelle. J’ai donc eu envie de m’entretenir avec elle au sujet de son travail, du thème de ce numéro de Jentayu, de Passport et de Blood.

Vous pouvez lire la traduction française de cet entretien ici sur le site de la revue Jentayu.

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