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Interview With an Author: Juli Min

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Author Juli Min and her first novel, Shanghailanders
Photo of author: Shen Wu

Juli Min is a writer and editor based in Shanghai. She studied Russian and comparative literature at Harvard University, and she holds an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson. She was the founding editor of the Shanghai Literary Review and served as its fiction editor from 2016 to 2023. Her first novel, Shanghailanders, was published in May 2024 and she recently talked about it with Daryl Maxwell for the LAPL Blog.

What was your inspiration for Shanghailanders?

I moved to Shanghai in 2016 and started working on Shanghailanders in 2020. The city was my muse; I wanted to capture the energy, speed, diversity, and beauty of this immense city.

Are Eko, Leo, Yumi, Yoko, Kiko, or any of the other characters in the novel inspired by or based on specific individuals?

They are not; rather, I think I gave something of myself to each of the characters: Eko’s quietness, Leo’s anxiety, Yumi and Yoko’s New England education, Kiko’s love of the performing arts. Of course, they all grew into their own unique selves and bumped up against one another in ways I could never have imagined.

How did the novel evolve and change as you wrote and revised it? Are there any characters or scenes that were lost in the process that you wish had made it to the published version?

There was one character who was deleted, a man who lives on the streets of Shanghai and considers himself the caretaker of the city’s stray cats. But I think his relationship with the family was too loose to add much to the overall story. The novel mostly grew larger through revision. I had great feedback from my agent and my editors, who encouraged me to expand the backstories of several characters further and who were always so willing to look at new (and, in some cases, older, unfinished) material.

What inspired you to tell this story in reverse chronological order, starting in the future and moving toward the past? Did you write the novel this way? If so, did writing the novel moving backward in time impact or affect your writing?

We can’t go back in time. And yet, we always do. Through memories in our experiences, which are always layered with fragments of the past and expectations for the future. I wanted to create a married couple that stayed together for decades. Sometimes, you see a family or a couple and ask: why do they stick it through? Why do they persist? What does she see in him, or he in her? And in going backward in time, you learn what they’ve gone through together, the bad and the good, and ultimately, the deeper roots of love and personal history that never wither. I think, in going backward, that I preserved a little bit of hope for the family.

Have you ever visited or lived in Shanghai? If so, do you have any favorite places? A hidden gem that someone visiting should not miss?

I’ve lived in Shanghai for nearly a decade now. One of my favorite places in the city is the West Bund area, which is full of art museums, riverside walkways, and places for children to play.

Same questions for Paris? Have you ever visited or lived there? Any favorite places?

I’ve visited Paris but have not lived there for an extended period. I’d love to spend more time there one day.

As a debut author, what have you learned during the process of getting your novel published that you would like to share with other writers about this experience?

This is my first published book, but I’ve written two other full-length book projects previously and have also changed agents. Between projects, I got my MFA in fiction. I would encourage writers to persist despite setbacks and keep learning, reading, and trying new things.

What’s currently on your nightstand?

I am re-reading Svetlana Boym’s The Future of Nostalgia. I have also recently read River East, River West by Aube Rey Lescure, which is an incredible book, published earlier this year, also set in contemporary Shanghai.

Can you name your top five favorite or most influential authors?

Vladimir Nabokov, Marguerite Duras, Virginia Woolf, Eileen Chang, W.G. Sebald

What was your favorite book when you were a child?

Maybe Bridge to Terabithia, but I also remember devouring the Animorphs books which were all so grotesque and wild. My 8-year-old mind was absolutely blown away by the ending of The Green Book.

Was there a book you felt you needed to hide from your parents?

I read quite a bit of Danielle Steele as a child, haha. But no one was curating my reading lists; the library was an entire world of possibility and freedom, which was incredibly empowering for me.

Is there a book you've faked reading?

I didn’t read War and Peace until well after graduating from college with a degree in Russian literature…

Can you name a book you've bought for the cover?

Motherhood, by Shiela Heti—the cover with the figurine, the ball, & the knife.

Is there a book that changed your life?

The Lover, by Marguerite Duras. She showed me what fearlessness and shamelessness look like for a writer. And it was possibly the first time I saw an Asian male figure portrayed erotically in fiction.

Can you name a book for which you are an evangelist (and you think everyone should read)?

Trust Exercise, by Susan Choi.

Is there a book you would most want to read again for the first time?

The Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

What is the last piece of art (music, movies, TV, more traditional art forms) that you've experienced or that has impacted you?

I was recently in London and saw the Tate Modern’s curated collection of some of the Beijing East Village artists from the 90s, including RongRong, Ma Liuming. Their works were so brave, so touching, and when looked at through the lens of today, tinged with sadness.

In New York recently I saw Mary Jane, written and directed by Amy Herzog. I am a mother of two young children; and I watched the play with a friend, herself a new mother of a two-month-old. We were devastated.

What is your idea of THE perfect day (where you could go anywhere/meet with anyone)?

My idea of the perfect day would be on the beach with a book, my husband, Korean snacks, and my two children playing peacefully and independently in the sand nearby (without burning). A complete fantasy!

What is the question that you’re always hoping you’ll be asked but never have been?

Was Shanghailanders inspired by Dubliners?

What is your answer?

Yes, so much so. I love Joyce, and in that collection most of all, his story The Dead. The title of my novel is partly a nod to that book about another singular place in a singular time.

What are you working on now?

A novel featuring another complicated love story.

Book cover of Shanghailanders
Min, Juli