Today we're talking with Avraham Azrieli, author of Thump
FQ: Sir, you have written a number of titles that reach into the political arena, as well as back into the Holocaust era. What made you decide to write a legal thriller with sexual harassment at its core?
AZRIELI: The story of Thump had to be told -- it's been brewing in my mind for a while. Besides, writing in the legal arena is quite natural for me. I have spent over two decades in the legal world, earning two law degrees, serving as a law clerk for two different courts, and representing clients in business litigation at every level, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. As you can guess, all this legal experience provides a great deal of material for great stories. A lot of different threads of my life came together to knit the fabric of Thump -- law, love, libido, likes and dislikes of certain people, and my longtime fascination with the volatile flashpoints of race and sex. But perhaps I had to wait, as a novelist, to make sure I’ve earned the requisite knowledge to write authentically, i.e. to bring to life the ambiguities of the law, the intricacies of courtroom action, and the competitive machinations of lawyers. But turning a legal conflict into a dramatic and suspenseful story was a new challenge and, as it turned out, an incredible experience for me. I hope my readers will agree.
FQ: The Investment Manager strategy that Thump utilized seemed almost like the token ambulance chaser; he looked out for deaths and then headed to the widows to sign them up as fast as possible with the company. Do you feel that this is a very real look at this specific industry? And, if so, can changes ever occur in such a world that has worked this way for so long?
AZRIELI: As a novelist, my mission is to take my readers on an exciting ride. I believe readers are very smart and can tell when the story is rooted in reality. I therefore make a tremendous effort to make sure that the factual background is true to reality. In this case, the way certain industry professionals operate in the asset management field is reflective of reality. As to morality, I leave it to my readers to judge.
FQ: Readers will appreciate the fact that Thump basically hedged his bets by looking for more blue-collar/semi-wealthy clients in order to have people in his own stable if the very privileged did not work out as clients. Do you feel this non-trust of the wealthy (and, secretly his own company) spoke to the poor background he had?
AZRIELI: This is a very interesting aspect of American society. We live in a democracy that promises equality, opportunity and freedom. To a large extent, the United States fulfills its promise. In fact, I believe U.S. laws and its unique system of governance does provide the best opportunities for anyone willing to work hard. It is not a coincidence that people from every continent aspire to immigrate to this country. At the same time, it is human nature to create a class society, divided by economic and social status. In that respect, the United States is better than most countries, yet not prefect. Thump pursues his business ambitions with a realistic view of his social handicap, and does not shy away from using every tool in his arsenal to succeed. In this respect, he is no different than many men and women who do what they have to do to reach their goals.
FQ: Thump is, like many in the world, obsessed with that moneyed life and will do anything to achieve it for himself, his mother, as well as his fiancée. Do you believe this will always be the case with people? That the 1% of this world will always be the group that others envy, despise, and wish to be all at the same time?
AZRIELI: I don't know about the 1%. That's a political term which I don't think reflects reality at all. I have met and worked with many people who succeeded financially and professionally, some of them to a great extent. For the most part, they work hard, serve clients or customers diligently, and are driven not by envy or thirst for power, but by a personal sense of duty to succeed and live a meaningful life. In that sense, Thump is no different than most of us, aspiring to reach higher professionally and financially. What makes him different is his willingness to pay a greater price and engage in unsavory activities that he eventually comes to regret.
FQ: Bringing together the ex-judge turned lawyer who made remarks about African Americans based on her data and background was an expert move. In your opinion, do you believe if people just listened to the other side of the debate instead of continuing to look down or up at one another, things could change for the better? Could there be more opportunities for everyone? Could the arguing stop and the world move forward, or will there always be the squabbling in the sandbox because people will never listen?
AZRIELI: Yes, eventually we all reach a peaceful place where no one is arguing any longer. But for the living, yes, I think it is human nature to disagree, "to look down or up at one another," and to engage in passionate (or vicious) conflicts. But you have to admit that this makes life much more interesting. Thump does parallel several social conflicts that continue to plague America, perhaps going back to the era of slave economy and women’s subjugation. But it is a very current story, totally of our time. Rather than an indictment of any particular group or idea, Thump is a courtroom drama that brings to life the real-world human conflicts between young and old, men and women, rich and poor, and white and black. Besides, it explores the give-and-take that sexually attractive people engage in to obtain what they need, how far they would go, and what horrendous consequences could result when things go wrong in that arena. Add to that the intense and volatile flashpoints of race and sex, and you find yourself in Thump’s devastating predicament.
FQ: You have a character in your novel of a homeless man. Can you go deeper for the readers into why he appears?
AZRIELI: Yes, there must be a whole novel that should be written about this homeless man, and many others. We tend to look away from the homeless, pretend they are not there, but my point in including him in Thump was that each homeless person has a story that's as interesting and as humanly deep as any of us. Another aspect of homelessness in America is that may of our homeless are veterans of the U.S. military. While I am a veteran of the Israeli army, I feel a great deal of camaraderie with every veteran. In fact, my current novel-in-progeress is a thriller that deals with the commercialization of Memorial Day. It features Ben Teller, the motorcycle-mounted investigative reporter from The Mormon Candidate.
FQ: Thump is, like many, extremely driven to get to the top. Therefore, he does set aside morals in order to get that power he’s craved for so long. Do you believe this is still the mentality for the young male and female in 2014? And, do you feel as if sexual harassment is prevalent in the workplace for the younger generation who is striving to rise?
AZRIELI: There is no question that sexual harassment in all its forms and variations is incredibly resilient, not only in the workplace, but in the military, within families, and in every hierarchical environment where men and women (or men and men, or women and women) exert power over one another—and can extract sexual favors. Any situation of dependency—financial, emotional, social, academic, etc.—offers the opportunity for sexual dealings. In some situation, such as the story of Thump, it’s terribly difficult to tell where the line separates victim from perpetrator, consensual sex from predatory imposition, and a mutual arrangement from sexual harassment. That’s the challenge facing the jury (and the reader) in the case of Thump.
FQ: This book truly offers up people who are not innocent. Every character has flaws and has chosen the low road more than once in the business world. Can people make a vow and keep it while still getting to the top of the ladder? Or, in your opinion, will the world always be doing anything to get to the top and then worrying about the repercussions later? Is there a way to bring back morals and values that have dimmed?
AZRIELI: Flawless, totally innocent people rarely exist, if at all. I haven’t met one yet. The main character, Thump, is a combination of men I’ve worked with or known socially—bright, driven, confident (or cocky)—and a bit reckless, especially when it comes to sex. He is quick-witted, ambitious and decisive—the qualities necessary for an African American kid from a poor neighborhood in Baltimore to succeed in the white-man’s business world. But he also has a good heart and, like most men, he loves his mother and is determined to make her proud. His nickname, Thump, is not only an allusion to a more abrasive four-letter word, but also mirrors the novel’s attributes—succinct, explicit and shocking—like a good thump on the head.
FQ: Women in power still seems like a fantasy in 2014. Along with the racial and sexual harassment issues presented, there is also that old adage that women being in power is as much a shock as an African American being in power. Our current President changed that for one group, but do you believe that sometime in the 21st century women will be in charge? Or, is that an impossibility?
AZRIELI: One of my most precious childhood photos is the one showing me, age ten or so, meeting Golda Meir at a Navy Day parade in Haifa, Israel. Golda was an American woman who immigrated to Israel and rose through party ranks to win the Prime Minister post. There are a number of successful women in top political positions in various countries around the world. In the United States, women serve in top positions, such as the Speaker of the House, cabinet secretaries, state governors, and CEOs. Therefore, yes, I believe it is only a matter of time until the White House is won by a woman. As a novelist, i explore this area with Tanya, a frail and beautiful Holocaust survivor, who becomes a Mossad agent in The Jerusalem Inception, and eventually (and reluctantly) rises to lead Israel's spy agency. Similarly, the main Character in The Masada Complex is a woman of incredible courage and resilience, who defies the odds in her own way.
FQ: Can a court be color blind?
AZRIELI: Courts are run by judges, who are human, and therefore susceptible to prejudice. Having worked in and around courtrooms for over two decades, I’d say that my main inspiration for the characters that populate "Thump" has been real life. My experiences as a lawyer, the people I’ve worked with, worked for and—most importantly—those I worked against, have given me plenty of realistic material for captivating conflicts. As courtroom dramas go, of course, Philadelphia is incredible because, likeThump, it deals not with a crime but with a moral conflict born of prejudice. I have also loved Civil Action, Presumed Innocent, Primal Fear, Class Action, The Accused, The Verdict, A Few Good Men, and the best of all, Inherit the Wind. I think the reason we love courtroom dramas so much is that the most dramatic conflicts end up before the courts. That's where the action is, when it comes to human conflict. Thump brings all of these things together in an intense legal conflict about race, sex and unbridled ambition.