Talking to Novelist Andrew Cotto About His Brooklyn Gentrification Noir

08/16/2012 9:00 AM |

Food is such a huge part of Caesar’s character, which for me rings bells of gentrification, but with Caesar it doesn’t work that way. But it’s a central part of him.
Yeah, it’s a big part of who he is, and something that was challenging while working on the story. Caesar is not an emotive type of character. Even though you have the gift in writing prose, to go inside characters and express their emotions, writing that way would not have been true to Caesar’s character. But there was depth to him, and I wanted to find ways to communicate that without exposition.

I did it two ways: one was his eye for imagery—the descriptions of buildings, trees, people. His descriptive skill was that of someone who pays attention to their surroundings. He’s aware of how the pigeons flip in the sky and their colors change, how much he enjoys music and those things were important to communicate a humanity in him that wouldn’t come from him saying “I’m so lonely and I wish someone would help me with this pain.” Food was the other part of that. It’s the one-two punch I was going for. Food is communication. I think Caesar was trying to reach out to his community through his cooking. It’s not an accident that when he started working at The Notch, he catered the menu in a way that acknowledged the neighborhood and his background. He really was communicating with the community.

Food is something that can foster a deeper level of understanding and appreciation. Caesar was trying to do that to the best of his ability. Some of those food scenes were the ones I enjoyed writing the most. He blends creole cooking in, as he used to live in Lafayette. He’s adopting the cuisine of the places he’s been as a way of learning from other people and their culture. Lots of people who are really great cooks only cook the food they know. Sicilians are a good example. They won’t eat anything but Sicilian food. They’ll make Sicilian food, eat Sicilian food, drink Sicilian wine—they’re very provincial in that way. It’s not unique to Sicilians, but that’s what people do. Caesar’s adaptability with cuisine is reflective of his personal adaptability.

Do you have a favorite noir and a favorite book about Brooklyn?
My favorite Brooklyn book is definitely Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. He did an incredible job with the imagery, of putting you on Court Street in the 80s. And noir in general, I think Mystic River or The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

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