Barry Eisler's conversation with Juliette Kayyem is excerpted below:
Barry Eisler: The God’s Eye View is my 11th novel. It’s built on the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden. And when I first had the idea for this book, it was probably about three years ago, a little over three years ago. I had this idea for a far-reaching surveillance program and thought it could make the good basis for a thriller. But my concern was that my brand has a lot to do with realism and this idea I had for this far-reaching surveillance program was probably going to be too much. And people would say, “Come on, Barry. You know, something like that is, is too broad. It’s too intrusive. The government doesn’t have anything like that and they would never do something like that even if they did have something like that.” And I was in Tokyo in June 2013, researching my previous novel, Graveyard of Memories, when Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras broke the first stories based on Snowden’s revelations. And I instantly realized that my surveillance program had not been nearly ambitious enough. It, it wasn’t realistic, but not for the reasons I’d been concerned about. It was because it didn’t even come close to what the NSA was already doing. So that’s, that’s the plot basis.
Juliette Kayyem: And so the, the plot revolves around keeping secret or potential disclosures about this program called the God’s Eye View and various people who find out about it and most of them, most of them go away. And aren’t seen from again. What did, what did the God’s Eye View do?
Barry Eisler: Well, I don’t want to give away too much from the book. But the, the program called God’s Eye is a way of examining people’s behavior by, by extremely intrusive surveillance technologies, all of which, by the way, are real. There’s an 18-page bibliography at the end of the book. I think it’s a little unusual in fiction. But my fiction’s not usually that fictional. So the nature of the program is, is part of a plot that I don’t want to give away. But, but the characters inhabit the belly of the beast. The antagonist is Theodore Anders, the director of NSA. Protagonist is Evelyn Gallagher, a single mother who’s trying to raise her ten-year-old deaf son, and her job as an NSA analyst is therefore pretty important to her. The, the benefits of that job, that sort of thing. And one of the director’s contract killers, a damaged giant of a man named Marvin Mannes who’s up until now, who’s only imperative in the world has been protecting the director and carrying out his agenda. Mannes gets put in this position where the director decides that Evelyn Gallagher is not reliable and Mannes needs to get close to her, assess her reliability, and perhaps ultimately kill her. Then what happens in, is what you would hope would happen in a thriller, where Mannes is having to choose between his loyalty to the director on the one hand and his growing attraction to and attachment to Evelyn Gallagher on the other.
Juliette Kayyem: So tell us a little bit about sort of sign language in this world in which everything is listened to, surveyed, read. What is it about deafness that was appealing to you as a character attribute?
Barry Eisler: It’s funny. On this tour, you’re the second person who asked that. And I feel like maybe something was going on in my unconscious which, which happens. I, I didn’t consciously think, oh, the government is listening to everything so I’ll make some deaf characters. I mean like Woody Allen had a movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors and it was all about god watching and the rabbi’s going blind and I think he probably consciously knew what he was doing in, in that instance. But in this one I, I wanted Evie’s son… I was looking for reasons that Evie would be really hemmed in. I wanted her to have a dilemma where on the one hand, she comes across a program that she knows isn’t right. It can’t be constitutional. Like the use of this program cannot possibly be legal. And, and if you believe in the Constitution and the rule of law, then that’s something that’s going to disturb you. But on the other hand, we live in an era where if, if anyone’s listening and curious about this sort of thing, just Google “insider threat.” That’s a, a concept that the government has put forth. McClatchy broke the story a couple years ago where the government wants federal employees to watch each other for signs of unreliability. I mean it’s really right out of East Germany. So Evie’s living in this really paranoid environment working at this paranoid place and she’s concerned that if she raises her, her doubts about this program, it’s going to create professional problems for her and maybe she might even lose her job. And then what’s her son Dash gonna do? So I like that dilemma and for that she had to have, she had to have some constrictions that were in conflict with her, with her normal, hopefully normal, civic desire to do something when we, when we see some sort of government illegality. And that’s why I thought of, okay, maybe a son with some sort of disability. And at the time, I happened to be reading a really terrific book by a guy named Andrew Solomon. It’s called Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and – or children, parents, I forget – and the Search for Identity. And there’s a chapter, an amazing chapter in an amazing book about deaf culture. And so it’s just serendipity. I was like, right, maybe Dash is deaf. And then, ah, you know what? Maybe Mannes is de-… Yeah, because Mannes has this other thing and that would fit. And now, yeah, people are starting to ask me like, “Oh, that’s really clever, you know, have these deaf characters.”