Sunday, 3 July 2016

S is for SALOIS

Reuben SALOIS is the main new character in The Madagaskar Plan, and one of the three mentioned on the back cover: ‘Burton... Hochburg... Salois... the fate of the world is in their hands’. I’ve mentioned Salois before – here, in this blog from the first book. He’s another of my recycled names/characters... though his first name gave me months of anxiety. I must have gone through thousands of Jewish male names to find the right one, only settling on Reuben in the final weeks before the book was finished.

From the start it was important I had several Jewish characters in the book. Partly this was to assuage any criticism of writing about the subject matter solely from a Gentile point-of-view, partly so the reader could experience the world I had created at ground level. Salois is one of the first Jews to be shipped to Madagascar, so we see the whole Jewish experience through his eyes – from the journey to the equator, to the work gangs, the first rebellion and beyond.

The character went through various incarnations from the entirely realistic, complete with ‘normal’ backstory, to the more mythic figure he is in the finished book. [Spoiler alert.] Salois is borne from the ancient tradition of heroism. The Greeks believed a hero was someone who performed great deeds; the idea of morality – whether in the deeds themselves or the person doing them – was irrelevant (the link between heroism and doing good arrives in the medieval period and Age of Chivalry). The other big influence on Salois was Harmonica from Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, which leads me to...

I’ve left this entry as one of the last because I want people to have the chance to read the book before turning to this blog. There is a revelation about Salois I must make. Some readers understand it, others don’t. If you’ve read Madagaskar and are happy with your interpretation of Salois, there’s no need to read on. From what people have already reported, he’s one of their favourite characters. But if you want to know my intention, it is this. [Major spoiler alert.] Salois is a phantom; he is not entirely of this world. He is ‘Azrael’, the avenging angel of Jewish mysticism. Of course it is possible to read the character in an entirely naturalistic way, but I wrote him as a man returned from the dead to put right a great wrong. It is the sin of his own life and the sin committed against his race. There are clues to this everywhere in the text.

Two final pieces of trivia. His parting line is based on Prospero’s farewell in The Tempest. We never learn Salois’s actual name. Like Harmonica, and very much in the Leone tradition, he is a man without a name.

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