For a book to take you nearly 20 years to write, there has to be some sort of central, driving force to keep you going. What was it for you?
I grew up knowing about Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, the doctor upon whom Norton is based. He was one of these larger than life figures who was always hovering over my childhood. My father is a research doctor and he was fascinated by Carleton so I always knew his story, and I always thought he was far too good of a character to squander to time. So there was that: there was feeling an ownership of the character and always knowing that I would have to say something about him. And the other thing is, these are themes—colonialism, moral relativism—that really occupy my life. There comes a point when you’re writing a novel when you’re in it so deep that the life of the novel becomes more real to you than life itself. You have to write your way out of it; once you’re there, it’s too late to abandon. It may take you 18 years or 20 years or 30 years. You hope you enter as an immersion, and after a certain point, it becomes getting out of it as an exorcism, if that makes sense. If you’re lucky, that’s what happens.