© 2023 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Shadows of Trump in 'Mother Land' Novel


Paul Theroux is widely regarded as one of the finest living American writers. But really, he’s a writer of the world. His fifty-year career encompasses travelogues such as The Old Patagonian Express and Deep South, and novels ranging from The Mosquito Coast to Hotel Honolulu.

His latest novel at times reads like a travel memoir through an exotic and often unpleasant place called Mother Land, which is also the title of the novel. It's an epic-length depiction of a large family with a tyrannical mother at its center - a virtual dictator in a closed-off society. It’s narrated by one of the family’s sons - a writer named Jay, who bears a few similarities to Theroux himself. 

The title character, however, bears some similarity to a contemporary figure: President Donald Trump. Theroux describes Trump as a "classic narcissist" who's "obsessed with his family." 

"As a patriarch, though, he has that. He's mercurial, he's difficult, people... want to please him - just the way you want to please your parent," says Theroux. 

The book compares the way large families function to nations, and he believes Trump talks about the United States as though it's his family. "'We're a nation, we're all one, and the rest of the doesn't matter.' That was another message he had," he explains. 

"My novel, Mother Land, kind of replicates this condition of a dominant, single parent - because you think of Trump not as a married man but as a patriarch who has this kind of harem, you don't think of them too much. You just think about him," he continues. 

While Theroux doesn't think of himself as an ardent Trump supporter, he believes that the Trump Administration has had a profound effect on Americans and that some of that has been beneficial, especially when it comes to the artistic community.

"You notice now that people are much more creative, they're much more satirical. They're funnier, they're much more responsive, they're  more engaged because Trump is president," he says. "Trump has created this resistance and he's also made a lot of people think hard about who they are, where they are, and what they want."