Natalka Burian received an MA from Columbia University, where she studied Eastern European literature with an emphasis on the work of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. She is the co-owner of two bars, Elsa and Ramona, in Brooklyn, and City of Daughters, a line of speciality cocktail goods. She is the co-founder of the Freya Project, a feminist fundraising reading series which supports small, non-profit organizations doing crucial work in communities that do not support that work. ‘Welcome to the Slipstream’ is also her first novel.
With so many accolades under her belt, we got chatting to Natalka about her most recent one, the breathtaking young adult novel ‘Welcome to the Slipstream’.
Can you sum up ‘Welcome to the Slipstream’ in just three words?
I would say that at its heart, ‘Welcome to the Slipstream’ is about music, family, and growing up. (I know that was four words, but, please indulge me!)
What else does the title tell prospective readers about the story?
I knew that I wanted the word “Slipstream” in the title; it’s from Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks‘. I love the connotation of the word, and its use in the song. More importantly, I thought “slipstream” was the perfect summary of Van’s life and the way she moves through it, literally travelling in the wake of her overwhelming and dynamic mother.
Van’s story is a mixture of unique and relatable. How did you go about achieving this balance?
In this case, I think any balance was the result of lots of revision. I just kept going over and over it to make sure everything rang true but also felt grounded. It wasn’t easy, and I’m still not entirely sure it was achieved.
Mental health is another subject that was beautifully handled. What prompted this direction for the book and how did you go about constructing such an authentic portrayal?
A member of my immediate family has bipolar disorder, and it was undiagnosed for a long time—mainly because in the reality of my family, it was normal. A lot of the way Van and Ida cope with Sofia’s fluctuating mental health is modelled on the way I coped with it. It was difficult at times to relive those experiences for the book, but essential to the story.
The Las Vegas setting provided an exciting backdrop for the action. Why did you choose to partially set the book there?
How could you not set a book in Las Vegas? I think that is the real question. It’s so strange and full of contradictions and secrets (a city in the middle of the desert that shouldn’t even be there! What happens there stays there!) It’s a city where the most wonderful things happen—weddings, celebrations of all kinds—and where truly awful things happen simultaneously. It’s full of emotional highs and lows, and kind of seemed like the perfect place to pick up Van and Sofia’s story. I also love the opportunity for visual extremes and the contrast of Las Vegas to Sedona.
Music plays a large part in Van’s life and is in many ways her escape. What three songs would you use as a mini playlist for the book?
This is the best question – Van Morrison’s ‘Astral Weeks’, the Cocteau Twins’ ‘Heaven or Las Vegas‘, and Nirvana’s ‘Dive‘. If I get a bonus track, the Vaselines’ ‘Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam‘, The Slits’ ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine‘, or Nina Simone’s ‘Blues for Mama‘.
Do you share the same musical interests as Van? If not, what is your escape from the chaos of life?
I definitely love the music Van loves, and music absolutely serves as an escape for me. There is no more evocative or transportive experience, I think, than listening to a really good song.
If, like Van, you were in a band, what would your band name be?
Ha! A million years later, I’m still trying to put together a Hole cover band called Courtney Hate, so any takers, you know where to find me.
And if this fictional band were to feature two other characters from the book, who would these be and why?
I changed my mind – this is the best question! Most definitely Ida. She’d be a fantastic frontwoman. I think Ulrike would be amazing on the drums, and then maybe Chantal, since she seems really organized, and like she’d book all of the gigs and make sure everyone showed up on time.
And lastly, if you could travel the world for work, as Sofia does, what three places would you wish to visit first?
Just three? Japan, Kenya, and Iceland.
Find Natalka Burian on Twitter, Instagram, and at www.natalkaburian.com.
‘Welcome to the Slipstream’ is available in the UK and the US