The Loss of Trust in Hernan Diaz's 'Trust'

The Loss of Trust in Hernan Diaz's 'Trust'

The structure of Hernan Diaz’s Trust is as unconven- tional as it is captivating. The book unfolds the story of a single individual through the lens of four distinct narratives. It begins with a novel-within-a-novel titled “Bonds,” chronicling the ascent of Wall Street magnate Benjamin Rask, loosely inspired by the real-life tycoon Andrew Bevel. As readers become engrossed in the saga of “Bonds,” the narrative shifts, transporting them into a memoir penned by Bevel(ghostwritten by his secretary Ida Partenza) in response to the fictionalized account. This unexpected transition is followed by the diary of Bevel’s wife, offering yet another perspective on the events unfolding. Finally, the book concludes with a reflective posthumous memoir by Ida Partenza on Bevel’s life. Through this intricate narrative tapestry, Diaz skillfully navigates a world teeming with conflicting perspectives and competing truths. In Trust, Diaz invites us to question the reliability of storytelling itself, leaving us to grapple with the complexities of truth, perception, and the enigmatic allure of fiction.

At the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Series Jaipur Literature Festival 2024, we sat down with Booker Prize winner to talk about his novel, money and the connection between fiction and reality.

Since there are four contradicting narratives in your novel, Trust, how do you think we choose narratives that we believe in?
A lot of it has to do with comfort. Certain narratives reaffirm, confirm and solidify a place that we have chosen for ourselves in the world and also reinforce a certain image we have of ourselves. And we feel good. So we have a certain inclination to go with those narratives, rather than those that invite us to question ourselves and our place in the world. So I think part of it has to do with that. Part of it also has to do with volume. It’s very hard to be immune to the sheer volume of information that can be projected onto us relentlessly. And sometimes, you know, we cave in just by the sheer pressure that certain narratives have, you know, the famous thing that, you know, a lie told a thousand times becomes true. I think there is an element to that, an element of truth to that, and I think our duty is to remain vigilant and to be critical readers and critical thinkers.

What is the role of fiction in telling the truth?
I think that fiction has a crucial relationship to truth, which is very unique. And it has its own epistemological position. It’s different from science, journalism, history or the discourse of the law, where again things need to be rigorously fact-checked and anchored in referential reality. Although fiction is not subjected to these protocols, it still has a very necessary and important relationship to truth. The relationship between fiction and truth, I think, has to do with the intersection of truth and beauty and emotion. And no other genre, discourse, or discipline. This is the realm of literature and that’s a very special thing I think at that intersection something essential happens, something that only literature can articulate and that’s why it’s so necessary that fiction tells us something about the experience while providing an experience at the same time. So this doubling up, I think, is really unique to the experience of fiction.

Did you want to portray the increasingly posttruth world that we are living in?
I can’t accept that term, post-truth. I think we should be really careful with language and I don’t want to be part of normalizing that questionable word. I don’t think there is such a thing. I think a lot of people wish there were such a thing. We have the duty as humans to pursue truth. It’s dangerous to claim there is no truth, and it’s also equally dangerous to claim that one possesses the ultimate truth. I think the crucial thing lies in the struggle toward truth. Having said this, I understand what your question means. And certainly, and certainly, the book was written in an atmosphere where it seems as if truth had been commod- ified. And had turned into something that could be bought and marketed, which might relate to what you just called a post-truth. I was profoundly interested in the connection between money, capital and truth. And truth is almost a luxury good.

How do you see them together—fiction and money?
I think money has a fictional core because it’s the result of a convention. It’s make-believe. You know, a five-dollar bill has that purchasing power because we have all agreed that it has it. But there’s nothing, there’s no material connection between that slip of paper and the effect it has on the world. It’s just, it’s make-believe. So money to me became a very eloquent example of how fiction can leave a dent in reality, and how fiction can alter reality.

Why and how did you come up with such an inter- esting structure of the book?
For two reasons. The first one has to do with money. It’s the labour of multitudes that go into a fortune. I thought I needed to honour that in some way and have the book contain, in some scale of course, that kind of multiplicity. I believe wealth has that structure too, of containing again a large number of people. The second reason has to do with the narrative of capital, which has provided a sort of megaphone to some and has effectively silenced others. I wanted really to enact that issue of voice formally in the book and have the readers experience it.

Tell us about how you have built the character of your protagonist, a highly objectionable person but has an inviting story attached to him.
I wanted to give him dignity as a person and to treat him with respect. I think that’s the ethical thing to do as a storyteller. I didn’t want to give the caricature of a financier with a top hat, a cigar, a pinstripe suit and spats, and then just beat him up with a stick. That’s easy. I think it’s more interesting as an aesthetic challenge to present, to the extent of my abilities, a full-fledged person with its flaws, but also with his humanity from the deep love that he feels for his wife and that to me was a very important dimension for that character.

There is no form of power, political or financial power, that stands on its own two feet without being propped up by narrative. We often think that power and money control the arts, fiction and storytelling, which is true to some extent but I think the reverse is true as well— power needs a narrative to endure.

Words Paridhi Badgotri
Date 03.02.2024