Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

Everything for Literature

There is a myth that journalistic endeavors interfere with the true vocation of a novelist: writing novels. I find that the opposite is true. My journalistic excursions have, if anything, enhanced my work as a novelist.
In early December, I traveled to Ukraine on a so-called íromance tour.ë The tour was organized by a company in Phoenix, Arizona, called A Foreign Affair. What's in a name? The official objective of the tour was to find brides from the Ukraine for a group of approximately twenty-five American men. The flip side of this coin was that a group of approximately twenty-five Ukrainian women would end up in the U.S. with a husband and a U.S. passport—as long as everything worked out.
I was the only man in the group who didn't hold a U.S. passport. Although I reside legally in the U.S., I cannot file a K-1 visa, the fiancée-visa, which entitles your future bride to be in the U.S. for ninety days. During this period, the couple either gets married or the fiancée has to leave the country. For people who have problems making up their mind, like me, this seems like an ideal situation.
A Foreign Affair did not ask me a single question about how I was going to file for a K-1 visa. However, they knew that I was living in New York and I had sent them a copy of my Dutch passport.
I guess the philosophy of this agency is: you pay us, we send you on a romance tour, you meet several women, and then it's between you and your god. Or perhaps I should say: between you and your women.
Plural, yes. I had the strong feeling that at least a quarter of the men on the tour planned to start a harem in the U.S.
The tour started in Odessa, one of my favorite cities because of the author Isaac Babel, whom I admire.
During the social, an occasion in which twenty-plus American men meet two thousand-plus Ukrainian women, Isaac Babel didn't get me far.
But I did have decent conversations about Pushkin. I admit that I never read Pushkin, Turgenev, Gogol, Bulgakov, and Dostoevsky.
After twenty minutes of literary conversation most of the women liked to dance, or drink.
I returned to the U.S. without a fiancée, so the question how to file for a K-1 visa never became urgent. I do have the feeling that one of my next novels will take place in Ukraine, at least partly.
And then I heard that there are romance tours for New York women to Alaska. I would love to go undercover on a tour like that.
I'm willing to cross-dress. Everything for literature.