Novelist Susan Choi says she reads the newspaper "voraciously," and often draws inspiration straight from the headlines. It's an approach that has served the author well: In 2004, Choi was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her historical novel, American Woman, based loosely on the Patty Hearst case.
In her newest novel, A Person of Interest, Choi again spins fiction from fact. The book, a psychological thriller that examines the way a reclusive math professor responds to the murder of a popular colleague, is reminiscent of both the Unabomber and Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist wrongly targeted by the U.S. government for spying.
"It's still funny for me to think of myself as someone who writes historical fiction because it seems like a really fusty, musty term," Choi says, "and yet it clearly applies."
But Choi adds that it's not just historical events that draw her in; she is also interested in stories that "seem to have another story hidden in them, that's not being told in the media."
To this end, A Person of Interest is about the way we alienate people who become objects of our suspicion, and about the way Lee, the protagonist, fails to "perform his innocence properly," Choi says.
"Innocence as we understand it in our culture is very theatrical," she says. "The flip side is if you're charming enough, you can get away with anything."
Choi is the critically acclaimed author of three novels. Her first book, The Foreign Student, won the Asian American Literary Award for fiction. Choi was also the editor, with David Remnick, of an anthology of short fiction called Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker.
This reading of A Person of Interest took place in February 2008 at the Politics and Prose book store in Washington, D.C.