Q1. What inspired you to write The Gene of Life? The discovery made at Limone sul Garda, clones, Neo-Nazis, GMOs — what exactly was happening to make you explore these themes?
Humanity has sought eternal life since time immemorial. About twenty years ago, life-science discoveries were under public scrutiny and discussion — genes and genomes, cloning and regenerative cells — and all are linked to immortality and a new concept of life. Cloning, in particular, gave us a new avenue of inquiry regarding life. The potential to artificially create genetically identical life forms necessitates fresh new modes of thought with regard to both life and death. And I felt that in the future, even the way we view what it means to be human will change.
At that time the resurgence of Nazism in Europe was in the news. COVID-19 began in 2020, and is still with us. I wouldn’t be surprised if death feels more present than ever before in the lives of most people. Vaccination is our sole means of combating this virus, and vaccines are the fruit of the blood, sweat and tears of a long list of researchers, including medical doctors and scientists. Through their efforts, I feel humanity’s wisdom, courage, kindness, and tenacity.
The protagonist of The Gene of Life is forced to unravel mysteries revolving around our genetic code in order to extend his own life, in addition to the lives of others. He gains powerful allies and fights against his destiny. Humanity is truly a life-changing force.
Q2. Katya is smart, brave, multi-talented, and beautiful. Who inspired her character?
She is my ideal woman. I’m told I follow the same pattern, but if you ask me, it’s okay if the women I personally find charming are similar. If I have to choose a single inspiration, I’d have to say Marie Curie, a scientist who received the Nobel Prize twice. I’d heard of her when I was in elementary school, but the year I enrolled in university I read the biography written by her daughter, Ève Curie. That is when I began to admire her more and more. She was a hard worker who was both intelligent and beautiful, and a woman who dedicated her life to science.
As for inspiring actresses, I like Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. I find anyone, man or woman, who strives to forge their own destiny in the face of adversity noble and admirable.
Q3. Do you think that, through the march of science, humanity will attain eternal life? If so, where do you think society is headed?
I often wonder what makes a person a person, or what makes humans human.
The heart is one of the most important organs in the human body. It’s our irreplaceable blood pump. People tend to equate the heart, as in the organ, with the heart, as in our spirit. Yet of course, it’s the brain that allows us to be consciously aware that we are who we are. It’s the brain that perceives sounds, colors, odors, etc. The brain remembers, cogitates, acts on stimuli, and does many other things as well.
Pardon this morbid thought, but imagine a human body dismantled into its limbs and organs. I think that ultimately, it’s only the brain that’s needed in order to continue perceiving ourselves as ourselves. I also think emotions are related to the brain. It’s the only body part that can’t be replaced, or you stop being you. The brain is the self.
The next novel I’m thinking of having translated into English is Floating. In it, the protagonist dies in a traffic accident and becomes the subject of a project that entails keeping only the brain alive (which is related to what they were researching at the university in The Gene of Life). As might be expected, though, death comes for him eventually.
Death’s existence makes life shine all the brighter. That, too, is a fact of life, I think.
“Enjoy life, for it is both beautiful and short.”
“Death is part of what makes us human.”
Q4. Do you have any other interesting facts to share with regard to The Gene of Life?
I was thinking about publishing the book in English and having it made into a movie around twenty years ago, too. That is why I wrote it to begin with. I think a great number of people all around the world are interested in science, history, humanity, life and death, and the divine. I wanted to write a novel based on those concepts and with a global-scale setting, and I wanted the story to speak to the whole world. Perhaps I was a bit too ambitious. The novel is set in Germany, Brazil, the Vatican, and the US.
In 2013, Nanjing University put out a Chinese translation.
I sprinkled a lot of phrases I like into the book:
“We live to enjoy life, and fun starts with a smile.”
“Don’t rush, but don’t dawdle either. Life is profound, if short, and the totality of life is beautiful.”
I’d like to put those words into practice.
Finally, after twenty years, a translation for the English-speaking world is coming out. I thank all of the people who have assisted and encouraged me. There is one other wish that has yet to be realized, though. Steven Spielberg adapted Schindler’s List and other projects into film. I’m praying this catches his eye!