To begin, can you tell us about yourself and your novel, The Tears of Dark Water?
I’m an attorney, a human rights activist, and a novelist. I write stories that are fast-paced and suspenseful, yet also nuanced and deeply human. They’re set on the global stage, and they tackle issues of international injustice. My first two novels, A Walk Across the Sun and The Garden of Burning Sand, were international bestsellers and published in over 20 countries. The Tears of Dark Water is my third novel, and the one closest to my heart. Depending on where you stand, you’re going to see it differently. Thriller readers will call it a thriller about hostage-taking on the high seas. Readers of international fiction will call it a story about Somalia and the Somali people and the need for cross-cultural understanding. Readers of family dramas will call it a story about three families—two American and one Somali—struggling to cope with the intensely personal fallout of an international tragedy. It is all of those things.
What inspired you to write a novel set at sea? What made you choose the Indian Ocean and piracy?
In February, 2011, the sailing yacht SV Quest was hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman. Four American sailors were taken hostage. The American government responded with overwhelming force, sending Navy ships and SEALs and an FBI negotiator to the scene. Four days later, all of the hostages were dead and the pirates were being extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for murder. The story of the Quest was the inspiration for The Tears of Dark Water. I wanted to understand how things could have gone so badly wrong. I also wanted to explore the emotion dimensions of a tragedy with such profound international implications. I wanted to know what would motivate a pirate to take to the seas. I wanted to know what it would feel like to be a hostage, to be the family member of a hostage, to be the negotiator trying to free the hostages, to be the Navy captain, to be a Navy SEAL. I did a tremendous amount of research and interviews to get the story right, including landing on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea, going to Somalia under guard, and getting to know Somalis in the U.S. and abroad. The Tears of Dark Water is not a fictionalized retelling of the Quest incident. It is a product of my imagination. But that incident played a large role in inspiring the story.
What do you want readers to take away from The Tears of Dark Water?
One of my goals in writing my books is to inspire empathy in my readers—empathy for people different from them, people from different places in the world, people who speak a different language and have different cultural and religious beliefs, people who are poor and marginalized and who we in the rich world don’t have occasion to think about most of the time. In The Tears of Dark Water, I worked very hard to create an honest, fair, and balanced depiction of modern Somalia, in all its beauty and tragedy, and to depict Somalis charitably, as human beings, without sugarcoating the challenges their country faces. I also worked very hard to depict their religion—Islam—in a nuanced way that reveals both the ordinary piety of the vast majority of Muslims in the world and the grievous excesses of the radicals who perpetrate violence against humanity—more often wounding their own brethren than anyone else. I hope my readers will see that there are as many sides to every story as there are characters in it, and that being human in the world requires that we take the time to understand each other, despite our many differences, even if we don’t ultimately agree with each other.
What genres do you gravitate toward in your personal reading?
When I get time to read novels (which doesn’t happen as often as I like due to my research and writing schedule), I prefer books that balance strong storytelling with rich characterization and elegant writing. Books like All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, The Last Child by John Hart, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.
Can you tell us a bit about your next novel?
I’m currently working on my fourth novel, which deals with labor abuse and injustice inside a global corporation and in the heart of the global economy. It’s a book I’m really passionate about, and I’m having a blast writing it.
You are a supporter of international justice causes. How can your audience help you promote justice around the world?
The first thing anyone can do is care about the issues I write about. All of us are busy people. We all have limited amounts of time and money. But caring goes a long way, and, as I said, inspiring empathy in my readers is my primary goal as an author. Beyond that, I’ve put resources on my website that can help readers think more deeply about the issues I write about, and find ways to get involved more concretely in combatting injustice around the world.
About Corban Addison
Corban Addison holds degrees in law and engineering from the University of Virginia and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. An attorney, activist, and world traveler, he is a supporter of numerous causes, including the abolition of modern slavery, gender-based violence, and HIV/AIDS. He lives with his wife and two children in Virginia.