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Interview with Former Governor and U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Chris Christie (R-NJ); Interview with "Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors" Playwright and Author Gillian Slovo; Interview with "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" Author James McBride. Aired 1:00-2p ET
Aired August 08, 2023 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump does not put America first. He puts himself first.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: He says his mission is to save his country and his party from Trump. I talked to the former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, about
confronting the Republican front runner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: to predict something is going to happen and have it happened, and not be able to stop it, there's no words for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- six years on from London's deadly Grenfell Tower fire, the tragedy re-told at the city's National Theater in the words of survivors. I
talk to the playwright, Gillian Slovo.
Also, ahead --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MCBRIDE, AUTHOR, "THE HEAVEN AND EARTH GROCERY STORE": I want people to love each other, but I don't want to say you all should love each other.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: -- the power of love and community in "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store." Walter Isaacson speaks to the award-winning author, James
McBride, about the relationship between black and Jewish neighbors in one American town.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London. The Washington grand jury that indicted Donald Trump for alleged election
interference has been working overtime today. Jurors are weighing evidence about the chaotic aftermath of the last U.S. presidential election right up
to the shocking January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.
But despite the intense legal heats of three indictments and the mounting cost of expensive lawyers, Trump is head and shoulders above the rest of
the pack, racing to become the 2024 Republican presidential nominee. Most of his rivals are too timid to take him on, but not our first guest. Chris
Christie is the former governor of New Jersey and a former federal prosecutor.
Now, as a Republican presidential candidate, he says flat out that Trump cannot be the nominee, and won't win the election against Biden. Christie
just got back from Ukraine where he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and that is where our conversation began.
Governor Christie, welcome to our program.
FORMER GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Can I start with Ukraine? You are one of the only, Mike Pence as well, Republican candidates who have been there to show interest in
solidarity with the fight that America's helping them wage. What did you find there? How did it affect you?
CHRISTIE: It's incredibly emotional experience. You know, I went to Bucha with emotion. When you go to Bucha and you see the cruelty and the
barbarism that war has executed by the Russian army, it's really breathtaking. Stories of civilians, men being pulled out of their homes by
the Russian army, their eyes gouged out, their ears cut off, and then murdered execution style in the back of the head and then going into the
homes and raping the women.
Over 160 people buried in a shallow grave by the cathedral, where the memorial now sets, after the church itself was also ransacked. You then
talk about the toll on the children of Ukraine. Verified now, Christiane, nearly 20,000 children kidnapped by the Russian army, repatriated to the
Russian federation. The mothers and fathers in Ukraine don't know whether their children are dead or alive, whether they're being cared for or
abused, and they think that worse.
And I met with some of those parents, and I can tell you as a dad of four myself, I don't know how they put one foot in front of the other with that
constant worry. And, you know, the end of that is that, as I sat there, I thought to myself, this is the barbarism that's being committed by Vladimir
Putin. And this is the guy that Donald Trump calls a great leader and brilliant.
AMANPOUR: Well --
CHRISTIE: It's unacceptable.
AMANPOUR: I was going to ask you what then would it mean if Donald Trump won the presidency again? What would it mean for the people and the battle
and the cause in Ukraine?
CHRISTIE: Well, he has said, of course, incredibly, that he would settle the matter in 24 hours. It's probably the same way he was going to get the
entire wall built on the border of Mexico, and Mexico was going to pay for it, and we've got 52 miles of wall, and not our first peso from Mexico. So,
I give it that much credibility.
But what I worry about, Christiane, is that the way he'd settle it is just to turn Ukraine over to Russia, by withdrawing all of our military support
and allowing the Russian army to continue to run Rashad (ph) over Ukrainian civilians, kill them, maim them, rape them, and then take this free country
and occupy it.
AMANPOUR: So, as a presidential candidate then, because it's not just Trump, it's others in the race right now, including independents, we're
seeing the numbers softening for the kind of strong support for Ukraine that they exhibited at the beginning of the war. What would you do now,
particularly as CNN is reporting, that a number of western officials and U.S. officials are speaking very pessimistically about the
counteroffensive, you know, really open unquestionably whether the Ukrainians can actually burst through and somehow get through the very
heavily laid the fences of the Russians?
CHRISTIE: Well, first of all, it would help if President Biden would be out there making the case rhetorically. He's done better than President Trump
has done in terms of providing support, but he has not been out there rhetorically making the case to the American people about why this is so
And it is important, Christiane, as you know, because China's funding this war against Russia -- for Russia against Ukraine. This is a proxy war
between the West and China. And China is going to be watching what we do here. And if we cut and run, believe me, it's a pay me now or pay me later
situation. If we don't supply the Ukrainians with everything they need to win, then we're going to be fighting in Taiwan to try to protect Taiwan.
And if you don't care about the Taiwanese either, let me give you a reason to care. Two-thirds of the semiconductor chips in the world are made in
Taiwan. Everything from running your telephone, to your computer, to your automobile, to most things in American life, do we want the communist party
of China owning two-thirds of the semiconductor chips in the world?
And when you talk about support for Ukraine, most people don't know, in artillery alone, in the average day, Russia is shooting 56,000 artillery
shells into Ukraine. Ukraine is able to respond with only 6,000. So, the pessimism that's being shown by some western officials, I believe, is based
upon two bad premises. One, they are ill-informed about how outgunned we are allowing the Ukrainians to be. And two, they haven't looked in the eyes
of the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy like I have and know about the results they have.
What we need to do is to arm them to win. We need to give them greater artillery, greater anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and we need to
give them F-16s. And if we do that, I believe the Ukrainians can win the war, and that will be a major win for the West and a huge miscalculation by
AMANPOUR: So, then, let me ask you. Because now it all depends on who wins the next election. And certainly, let's just talk about the primaries and
your party, because that's the first step.
President Trump, former president, is way ahead in the polls. You have been -- you've actually distinguished yourself by being in full throttle attack
mode against him. Some others criticize him, but none as forcefully as yourself. Even though the --
AMANPOUR: Right. Even though you're not doing massively well in polling. What is your mission? What is your aim?
CHRISTIE: My aim is to be the next president of the United States. And let me say this, Christiane. In the last two days, two new New Hampshire polls
have come out. In one, I'm in third place at 11 percent. Only two points behind Ron DeSantis. And a new one that came out today has me tied for
second place in New Hampshire with Ron DeSantis. Now, you know, that's the first step for me, is then, to set this up as a race between me and Donald
Trump in New Hampshire.
If we do that, I believe we will beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire. And if we do, we're going to show the emperor has no clothes, that Donald Trump,
who many people thought was the inevitable nominee, will not be. And I believe, then, I will be the nominee of the Republican Party, and I will
defeat Joe Biden, and that will be a great day, not only for our country, but for around the world, the fight for freedom and liberty, because we
need our allies once again to know they could count on the United States of America to do the big things and to stand up, because when we do, it makes
us richer, freer, smarter, and stronger.
AMANPOUR: To be fair, allies are very, very pleased with President Biden as compared with President Trump, particularly in this fight for democracy. I
get what you're saying as a Republican candidate. But, again, you have talked about Trump as vanity run amok. You have said he is a petulant
child, and you have said that your mission is, I will do what I need to do to be up on that stage. I assume you mean the debate stage, to try to save
my party and save my country.
How are you going to do it, given that all the polling we have, the inside focus groups who we talked to, Republicans who are doing that and former
Republicans say that the base, the people, the Republicans, have had enough of your generation? They consider you old Republican, and I don't mean
chronologically, but just in terms of philosophically.
CHRISTIE: Well, look, I -- first of all, I don't believe that. Secondly, I think that Donald Trump is declining, and you can see it. These national
polls, Christiane, mean nothing in the United States because we don't have a national primary. We have a state-by-state primary that determines who
the nominee will be.
The first one will be in Iowa, in mid-January and then, probably late January, early February in New Hampshire. Those are the first two and very,
very important to determine the tone of the race. So, I don't believe that. And I do -- I believe that Americans do want this country to become focused
on the big things again.
We have an education system where a third of our children cannot read at grade level. This is outrageous, and we're not going to be able to come up
with the next set of cutting-edge inventions. The next set of economic achievements if we have children who can't read at grade level, and a third
of them in this country can't right now. We're not spending any time on that. We're not spending time on, you know, how we're going to fix
entitlement programs that in 11 years we'll have a 25 percent cut in Social Security and that bankrupt Medicare system.
I'm the only one in this race talking about those things. I think it will break through, Christiane, because I think the American people know we are
at a real crossroads in this country, and it's time to stop worrying about who the TV stars are and start worrying about who can actually lead this
country and lead the world.
Lastly on President Biden, as I admitted to you, he has done better than Donald Trump did, but he is doing just enough in Ukraine for the Ukrainians
not to lose. A Christie administration will do what it takes for the Ukrainians to win and to set a defeat in motion for both the Russians and
AMANPOUR: What will you do on the debate stage? I believe the first one is coming up in late August, and you have said in a chat with the "Wall Street
Journal" editorial board, you know, in -- amongst other things, you said, Trump can't win. By the time we get to the debate stage in three weeks, he
will probably be out on bail in four different jurisdictions. I hardly think that's going to play well.
When you say Trump can't win, do you mean he can't win the primary or he can't win against Biden?
CHRISTIE: I know he cannot win against Joe Biden. He's already proven to be a loser to Joe Biden. And he lost in the midterm elections in 2018, and he
led us to big defeats in the midterm elections in 2022, and that was all before he had any criminal charges against him. And so, I know that
independent voters in this country are not going to support Donald Trump in the fall of 2024.
And as far as the primary is concerned, it's now up to me and candidates who are willing to fight Donald Trump directly to lead and to defeat, and
to lead our party to a change, a generational change, and also, a philosophical change. And that philosophical change is very simple,
Christiane. It's about putting the American people first, not the ego and the interests of any one individual.
And Donald Trump does not put America first, he puts himself first. And we see that all the time, and even in the speeches that he's giving now. He
spends hours going on and on about his problem. His problems are all self- created. He should have fixed them himself. And now, he's doing things like spending $40 million of donor money to pay his legal fees just in that last
half year. This is not a winning formula for the Republican Party, and it's only going to get worse.
AMANPOUR: What about DeSantis, the current governor of Florida? Many people thought that he would raise a very credible challenge to Donald Trump. And
yet, he seems not to have been able to. We understand from pollsters and focus groupers that the voters don't even bring him up when they ask him
about -- when they ask about candidates.
He's gone very anti-woke, he's absolutely deep into the so-called culture wars. For instance, his whole idea of forbidding, you know, certain
education about the former, you know, slaves in America, talking about how slaves actually learned stuff that were useful to them. Where do you stand
on that, because this goes to the heart of education as well?
CHRISTIE: Look, Christiane, if the choice is between what Ron DeSantis thinks about this and what folks like Tim Scott and Byron Donalds think
about it in my party, I'll side with Tim Scott and Byron Donalds who believe there was nothing about slavery that is praiseworthy. I agree with
And I think that, again, this is concentrating on the small things, Christiane.
CHRISTIE: Having arguments about this kind of things, not talking about our overall educational system and how to make it better. Not talking about
entitlements, not talking about inflation and how it's hurting every family here in the United States as they try to put food on the table, by their
rent, put gasoline in their car. These are the big things that we need. Crime in our cities is rampant and outrageous.
I'm a former federal prosecutor. Ran the fifth largest office in this country for seven years. As president, I will make sure we have an attorney
general who is focused on cleaning up the violent crime problem in our cities, because if we don't have great cities in America, we won't have a
AMANPOUR: And I just want to ask you again, going back to now confronting Trump in the most -- you know, I would just use the word aggressive, right?
I mean, I'm sure you'll agree. Pugilistic, whatever you like, of all the candidates. You weren't always there. I mean, you used to support him. You
helped him with debate prep. You actually got COVID from him. You wanted to be a member of his cabinet. And there are people you say, hang on a second,
is it possible this 180?
CHRISTIE: Well, first of all, I turned down four cabinet positions and White House chief of staff for Donald Trump. So, if I had wanted to be in
his cabinet, I could've been secretary of Homeland Security, secretary of labor, White House chief of staff. I turned those all down, Christiane. So,
we want to be clear on the record there.
But, yes, I did support Donald Trump. I thought he was going to be a better president than Hillary Clinton. And I didn't leave Donald Trump,
Christiane, he left me. When he stood there on election night, 2020, behind the (INAUDIBLE) president in the east room of the White House and said the
election had been stolen, when he had absolutely no evidence to support that, and we know now that was a complete lie.
And when he did it that night, I was on "ABC" doing commentary, and I said that night, I cannot support someone who would make the American people
believe that the election that they just participated in was stolen when he had no evidence to support it. And he still does it today and still
perpetuates the lie today, it perpetuated that lie on January 6th, inciting people to go up to Capitol Hill, in fact, urging them to go up to Capitol
Hill and blaming the failure to reverse the election on Mike Pence who was doing his constitutional duty as vice president.
People need to understand, I have always been critical of Donald Trump, when I thought he made mistakes. And in 2020, after the election and on
election night, I broke with him permanently. And I'm running in this race because I do not believe that America needs the type of leader who puts
themselves before the country, we need a leader who is willing to try to unite the country behind smart certain principles and wants to lead the
world as well, Christiane, against the efforts of the communist Chinese, against the efforts of the authoritarian Russians and a theocracy in Iran,
and the complete craziness of Kim Jong-un in North Korea.
If Kim Jong-un sends me a nice letter complimenting me, it won't mean I think he's a good guy like Donald Trump did. I'll know exactly what he's in
for as he continues to build more intercontinental ballistic missiles to try to deliver weapons around the world. That's the kind of thing we need
to confront to keep our world safe, secure and free.
AMANPOUR: Dare I say you do think Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a good guy. You went there. You met him. And I ask you this because you gave him framed
lyrics by Bon Jovi, "It's my life," that song. And we saw at the very beginning of the war in Odessa people playing that song while they were,
you know, organizing sandbags in defense. Tell me how that came about.
CHRISTIE: Well, you know, I knew about that viral video that you reference. And so, when I was thinking about what gift to bring President Zelenskyy,
my wife and I had been friends for about 15 years now with Jon and Dorothea Bon Jovi. They're fellow Jersey people. And I called Jon and told him I was
going to go see President Zelenskyy and thought it would be a great idea if I could bring him something from Jon. And Jon suggested that he write out
the lyrics to "It's My Life" in his own hand and have them framed. He did it and got them to me, and I delivered them to President Zelenskyy.
And I think it's just another symbol of regular Americans in this country who believe in freedom and liberty, and believe that what's happening in
Ukraine is not a territorial dispute, its authoritarian aggression by a barbaric dictator, Vladimir Putin, who needs to be sent to message to,
along with his benefactor, President Xi, of China.
AMANPOUR: All right.
CHRISTIE: And I'm glad that Jon was willing to do it. President Zelenskyy was very appreciative of the gift. It gave him the big smile. And given
what they're going through in Ukraine, if we cannot only give them support, but give them a moment of levity, as I did with giving that gift to him, I
think that's a good thing human to human.
AMANPOUR: On that note, Governor Christie, thank you very much for joining us.
CHRISTIE: Christiane, thanks for having me very much. I appreciate it.
AMANPOUR: And turning now to a tragedy that's six years on still reverberates here in London. In June of 2017, an apartment block in West
London called Grenfell caught fire with hundreds of people inside, 72 were killed as the fire raged out of control for more than 24 hours. The tragedy
laid bare shocking inequality of British society and the woeful housing and fire regulations across the capital and the rest of the country. A major
public inquiry is still going on.
Now, a new play here in London is retelling that devastating story, "Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors," is based on the eyewitness accounts
of the people who lived through the disaster. Playwright Gillian Slovo joins me here in the studio to discuss this. Welcome to the program.
GILLIAN SLOVO, "GRENFELL: IN THE WORDS OF SURVIVORS" AND PLAYWRIGHT AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: It is incredible, for me, just to hear myself reading that the public inquiry is still going on. They haven't even finished that, and it's
six years later. What was it that made you want to tell this story in this format?
SLOVO: Well, first of all, it was I, like many people around the world, watched in horror as the building burned and thought, how is it possible
that a building in one of the richest cities in the world and in one of the richest boroughs in that city could bring like that?
But then I began to think that one of the things that was missing from these stories is the people who lived in that tower to have their voices,
to hear what it was like for them to live in the tower, how they tried to change events unsuccessfully because nobody would listen to them, and how
they banded together at the end of the fire to help each other when the state, both big and small, failed them.
AMANPOUR: So, what you've done it's like -- what do they call it, a verbatim, right? This is you interviewed people. Talk to us about the
process that now shows up on stage.
SLOVO: I interviewed people over a process of many years and I interviewed quite a lot of people, both people from the tower and people from the
surrounding area. And then, out of their testimony I chose the stories that I thought could best share with an audience what this experience was. And I
chose 11 people who lived in that tower, who were -- who survived that fire and who were also bereaved by that fire. And I have knitted together their
So, first of all, they talk about what it was like to live there and what was happening when the tower was refurbished, because refurbishment is what
-- the materials that were used on their tower and the failure of that refurbishment is why that fire burned.
And then, in the second act, I talk -- we have the -- their experience throughout the tower, throughout the night of the fire. Astonishing story
of survival actually of many of them.
AMANPOUR: And what you do though, on stage, is you have that testimony from the actual survivors but it's not them who say it onstage, it is actors,
SLOVO: Yes. And until the end when we do actually have a small film with some of those people talking on film so that you actually do meet the real
people and that you know this is not a fiction, that this is what really happened.
AMANPOUR: So, we don't obviously have sound from your actual play, but we do have sound that we all captured, when we went down to cover it. So,
we're going to play actual survivors on that day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took my daughter, and I just ran to the stairs. As soon as I ran out, I saw already the fire holding one side. And inside, we
didn't know what's going on because nothing came inside, and we didn't know. No alarm, no water, nothing. You know, like it was very shocking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of the building was on fire. And then, when we rushed down, before the police and everyone got near us, we could see
people waiving and people screaming from the windows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: We what did your actors feel? What did they go through having to play this out?
SLOVO: I think they started by feeling the pain of what people had gone through, but they also had the privilege, as I have had, of meeting the
actual people and feeling also the heroism of ordinary people, in the sense that they could go through that horror not only survive, but band together
to help each other and, you know, campaign so that this shouldn't happen to anyone else.
So, I think what the actors have experienced is both the difficulties and the pain that people experienced, but also, what that -- the wonder of
their survival. And in a way, I think, I feel that it was a real honor for me to be able to meet these people and to have their words -- be able to
put their words onstage, I think the actors feel similarly.
AMANPOUR: And is their interaction between the actors and the real people?
SLOVO: Yes. And in fact, from the very beginning I consulted throughout with the real people. I shared the play with them in various drafts. They
were the first people to go to the first reading of the play. And I've taken their feedback. And also, they -- many of them have come to see the
play. Some can't bear to. Some can't live through that evening again. But all of them have been incredibly supportive.
And in fact, the other day, I just got an e-mail from one of them saying, we'd like to meet the actors again because we want to tell them what a
great job that they are doing. And so --
AMANPOUR: So, it's really validating them, validating their experience. And I guess, you know, a lot of people failed -- well, it obviously captured so
many people's hearts, but also, there was some unpleasantness around the community, you know, some in the press, some others, you know, talked about
somewhat disparaging about those who lived in the Grenfell community.
SLOVO: Yes. And I think, from my experience, they couldn't have been more wrong.
SLOVO: This is a wonderful group of people. And in many ways, although the play has gut-wrenching stories that will make your heart feel, it is also a
story of community and neighborhood, and that these people really are a great neighborhood. I mean, in a way, they are a lesson for the whole world
of how to build a community and how to keep a community together.
AMANPOUR: And, you know, you say, OK, it's 11 people's testimonials. Some have come to see it. You've had interaction with them. But what about the
greater Grenfell community? There's been some pushback over the years as certain, you know, TV shows and there's been a previous play have -- be --
have portrayed what they went through, and there's been a lot of pushback. Do you understand that and did you ever come that cross that?
SLOVO: Yes. I do understand it. And I've come across it, not in a major way, but yes, I have come across it, and I understand it. I think very many
people were damaged by that fire. Very many people are still traumatized by it and angry about it. And the one thing that they don't want to do, and
they kicked back against is other people stealing their words, stealing their experience.
But this isn't what we have. We have actually used words with the consent of the people. And I just hope some of those people who are scared that we
will steal the community's words will actually come and see the play and see what we have done. Because my experience is of people who have seen it
is they come out feeling both really sorry for what has happened, but also angry about what was happened themselves and wanting to help make it
different for other people. And I think that is worth doing.
AMANPOUR: Do you think fictional drama shouldn't happen, like what the BBC have done?
SLOVO: I wouldn't do it, but I don't know. I mean, I haven't seen the BBC one. So --
AMANPOUR: And interestingly, and this is -- it goes to the heart of it as well, you know, we are not showing the fire. You did not show or depict or
talk about the actual -- you know, the imagery for a reason. Talk to me about that. And also, some people, even though Grenfell still stands,
they're, you know, shrouded as this memorial to that terrible, terrible day, some people don't want it pulled down.
SLOVO: Yes. Because some people feel that it is a gravesite and it shouldn't be pulled down. I think it has to be pulled down because, in the
end, it's going to become too dangerous to keep up. But there is a process of consulting with the community to try and find out what should stand on
that land. I don't think housing can ever stand on that again.
AMANPOUR: That's interesting.
SLOVO: Yes. I mean, I think it needs to be some kind of memorial myself, but they're doing consultations with the communities about it.
AMANPOUR: And I just want to play an exchange that I had with a fireman down there at the time. Because you started by talking about how the first
part of it is about, you know, the cladding, the regulations that were run amok. If the regulations had been what they should have been, that fire
wouldn't have burned unstopped like that. This is the man who described it as a blaze like nothing he'd ever seen before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE BROWN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, LONDON FIRE BRIGADE: I've been here 25 years, I've never seen a fire with that intensity spread so quickly
throughout a building of this size. It is unprecedented. And as our commissioner said this morning, it's been extremely challenging for our
staff. And our condolences certainly go out to anybody that's been affected by this incident here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, he says, you know, never seen such a thing, and it's because they didn't know what would happen under the -- you know, sort of changed
regulations. But do you also hope that this is a message to, you know, the greater community, I mean, the greater country where still so many
buildings are clad in this terribly dangerous material and other such materials?
SLOVO: Absolutely. I think this is a message to government, first of all, that they really need to change the regulations so this cannot happen in
the future, that people cannot either flout the regulations or say that they don't understand them because they're so badly written. But that also
those people who live in clad building need compensations in order to be able to, you know, change the -- it's very expensive to take off the
SLOVO: And that government needs to be making sure that those people don't have to pay for what is effectively the fault of regulation and builders.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you about your own -- you know, what you bring to the table. You are originally South African. Your parents were very famous
South African anti-apartheid activists. Your father -- particularly your mother was assassinated. Take us back to sort of what formed you, the
crucible in which your sensitivity and sensibilities were formed.
SLOVO: Well, I was fortunate enough to belong to a family where both my parents could not keep silent about what was happening about inequality and
racial inequality in the country in which I was born in South Africa.
And although that was, at many times, incredibly stressful to be part of that family, because I spent my childhood with my parents being carted off
to jail. And then later on, somebody sent a letter, a barman (ph) killed my mother for the words that she spoke, because that's what she was, she was
an anti-apartheid activist who talked.
It was, yes, a tremendous difficulty of belonging to that family and a tremendous privilege of belonging to that family. To go back and see South
Africa, which has, you know, parent's names are still recorded in the streets, in the motorways, although they both had terrible sense of
directions, they've become roads, it feels like a tremendous privilege that what they have done has helped change that society. And it's made me the
writer that I am. It's made me want to talk about issues of justice and equality.
AMANPOUR: And you've done many -- you know, much writing about that. But this play has had great reviews of across the board. Are you used to that?
SLOVO: I have been writing for a very long time, and you always hope you're going to get the best of reviews in the world. And you often get some good
ones and some critical ones. This one has, as you say, been across the board pretty approving of the play and I think it is a mark of those people
and how riveting are their stories, and the grace and -- that they have presented them, that we've managed to put on a stage with wonderful
directors, Phyllida Lloyd and Anthony Simpson-Pike.
SLOVO: And a really strong set of actors, all of us working together to show what had happened I do think makes mesmerizing theater.
AMANPOUR: And finally, some of the people who perished and some of the people who made Grenfell their home were refugees and asylum seekers. Right
now, this government is putting hundreds of asylum seekers, 500, onto a barge that apparently the police say is only good for 200. This is what the
Fire Brigade Union general assembly -- general secretary says, the government is already strapped vital fire safety measures for asylum seeker
accommodation. Now, it wants to put more than 500 people onto an offshore barge designed to hold around 200.
You know, there was a somewhat inflammatory statement that this barge could be a floating Grenfell. In other words, society, the government hasn't
SLOVO: I think the government hasn't learned. I'm not sure that society hasn't learned. I'm not sure society even backs this. And I do think that
the government needs to learn that you cannot treat people as if they are not important. That's what makes a Grenfell and that's what might make this
AMANPOUR: What's next for Gillian Slova? What will you -- what piece of justice?
SLOVO: I'm going on holiday. I'm going on holiday. And then, I'll think about next.
AMANPOUR: All right.
SLOVO: It's been very engrossing, this. It's been the most --
AMANPOUR: And emotional.
SLOVO: -- emotional, engrossing and actually wonderful to be part of it.
AMANPOUR: Well, we're really glad you came here to share it with us, and it's doing, as I say, great at the National Theater. Thank you so much,
And "Grenfell: In the Words of Survivors" is at the National until August 26.
The power of love and community, as we've just have been talking about, in the face of tragedy can never be underestimated. Now, our next guest is
exploring this hope and humanity in his new novel. He is James McBride. He's one of President Obama and Oprah's recommended authors. And he's now
releasing "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store." He joins Walter Isaacson to discuss why love triumphs over evil.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, James McBride, welcome to the show
MCBRIDE: Well, thank you. Thank you for having me.
ISAACSON: You know, you've said in the past that there's a lot of pressure on the first sentence of a novel. So, let me read you the really beautiful
rolling first sentence of your new novel. You write, there was an old Jew who lived on the site of the old synagogue, on Chicken Hill in the Town of
Pottstown, Pennsylvania. And when the Pennsylvania state troopers found the skeleton at the bottom of the old well off Hay (ph) Street, the old Jew's
house was the first place they went to.
Tell us about that sentence, and why you used it to set up this complex but beautiful novel?
MCBRIDE: Well, that sentence really came at I wrote the very beginning of the book, after the book was essentially done. And I'm always big on these
first sentences, you know. When Harper Lee wrote "To Kill a Mockingbird," I think -- when he was 12, my brother, Jim, broke his arm or something like
that. Edgar Allan Poe, you know, "The Tell-Tale Heart," I was sick, sick onto that death with that great agony. The first sentence is -- it's very
impactful. The reader has to decide, he or she is in the library or in the bookstore, and they're looking at it, they have to decide whether this
story is going to be strong enough to draw them in.
And of course, the book begins and pushes into a great deal of Jewish life during that period, that many people don't pay attention to, and I wanted
to draw the attention to that as well. So, it just seemed like a good place to start. You have the conflict that begins right there, you know.
ISAACSON: Yes. It begins right there, and it's a conflict that involves many strands of communities, including blacks and Jews living together in
this small community there. And in some ways, it harkens back to your own background. You had a black father, you had a white mother who you found
out, I think, when you are a teenager was orthodox Jewish and then converted to Christianity. How much of your own background helps inform a
novel like this?
MCBRIDE: Well, a lot. I mean, I was always interested in what Jews in early 20th century America, because my own -- because when I wrote my first book,
"The Color of Water," I went to Suffolk, Virginia and researched the town where my mother grew up. And my mother's family had -- they were an
orthodox Jewish family. They had a grocery store in the black section of town.
And I recall, you know, interviewing a lot of the residents from that town who remembered her, remembered her family and remembered her parents and my
grandmother in particular. And I was struck by the business of, you know, how much antisemitism existed in the south during that time.
And I was a young man at the time. I just didn't believe it. I just found it to be incredible. You know, I mean, they were white people. What was --
you know, so I thought there was -- I couldn't see what the rub was. But as I've grown older, I've come to understand how difficult their journey was,
and I've come to understand antisemitism never really went away.
ISAACSON: You know, you got a great character in the book, Chona. And I assume it's pretty much based on your grandmother. Is that right?
MCBRIDE: Pretty much. I mean, she was -- she inspired it. You know, my grandmother was -- she had polio. She lived in the south and her husband
didn't really love her and she didn't have a lot of love in her life. So --
ISAACSON: And she was Jewish and she spoke Yiddish?
MCBRIDE: Oh, yes. She didn't speak English, she spoke Yiddish, yes. My grandmother, you know, I never met her, lived a very difficult life. She
was born in Poland. She came here as a young mother with my mother and my uncle.
ISAACSON: And Chona, in the book, is somewhat that way, right?
MCBRIDE: What Chona was -- see, Chona was happy. And Chona was able to -- she had a husband who loved her. And she was able to accept elements of
American life that my grandmother never got to experience.
ISAACSON: And you say of Chona in the book, she had not an ounce of bitterness or shame. I think that's your sentence. And you say something
like, Chona was an American unlike Moshe, the other character. Explain what you meant by that?
MCBRIDE: Well, there was -- now, I don't want to insult people who are Jewish when they say, well, my grandmother, by God, you know. So, I'm just
talking about my characters. That's how -- Jewish people across the world. But in this case, Chona being an American was not a greenhorn.
My mother used to talk about the fact that she had -- she was considered a green horn because she was new to America. She hadn't been here. That some
of the Jews in my mother's life who had been here look down on Jews who came from Eastern Europe, and they were considered, you know, European and
thus, green horns.
So, Chona had already separated some of the old world ways and accepted some of the new world ways that most she had not yet adopted or adapted to.
ISAACSON: You know, there's a character too in the book called Malachi, and I think that means messenger from God. You have Malachi say to Moshe in the
book -- or Malachi says to Moshe, we are integrating into our burning house. Your book is quite a bit about integration. What do you mean about
the burning house part?
MCBRIDE: Well, I -- you know, I lifted that straight from the lips of Martin Luther King, because I call it Malachi, some people call them
Malachi (ph). But Malachi was -- he did not like America and he wanted to return to Europe because he was an orthodox, a very orthodox Jewish person,
who couldn't accept the ways of America and he felt that by Jewish people from the new country -- from the old country coming to America, adopting
American ways, leaving behind their culture life, the Yiddish language and so forth, were integrating it to a house where materialism and greed would
only lead to suffering.
And so, he leaves. So, that's what I meant there. And he happens to utter that when he's looking at a group of black workers who were working and
they're talking about, I guess, the integration and American society.
ISAACSON: You know, you say that in the books, and you got it in "The Color of Water," now in this new book, "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store," and
it shows the complexity of black and Jewish relations, which over the past, you know, few centuries has been complex. And yet, you make it seem like it
can work when you're thrown together. Explain that.
MARTIN: Look, when Louis Armstrong died, he was considered -- he was music went around the world. And I remember reading Louis Armstrong story, well,
really, there many are the many things written about him. And he said he never forgot the kindness of this Jewish family that he worked for when he
was a kid in New Orleans. And that stayed with him.
In my opinion, the kindness that they showed him, he let that into his soul and it came out in his music that one around the world. So, it's real
simple. If you -- you decide, you know, that someone in your life is what you pay attention to. He could have said, oh, I remember this Jewish family
I worked for, they were cool. But, you know, I mean, I had to make it. My music is about whatever. But he understood what was important. Until the
end of his life, he was accessible to all people.
ISAACSON: And until the end of his life, he wore that Star of David that the Karnofsky family, you talked about, gave him. But one of the
interesting things was they grew up in the same neighborhood, and that's what happened New Orleans back them, around 1900, and it happens in your
books, is that we're all in the same neighborhood. Haven't we started to self-sort and it's going to make this more difficult?
MCBRIDE: Well, the answer to that has made it more difficult. Now, where the two integrations happen is in schools. And so, when you start
separating the rich from the poor, no matter what color they are, the kind of community that you're creating is the kind of community where creativity
is dead. Because creativity happens when people who are different come together and realize their differences are the diesel fuel, if you will, or
the electricity, that powers the motor.
And if you're smart enough, if you were raised right, you will respect these differences and celebrate them as your own, if you feel like it.
Because that's what makes this country great, is our creative operative impulses. And our creativity, is -- it comes from community. And "Heaven
and Earth Grocery Store" is really about community.
And, you know, the thing about community that's important to remember is that I make a mistake with my neighbor or if my neighbor makes a mistake
with me, if one of us is big enough to say, oh, you know what, I'm sorry. I made a mistake. Off we go. Then there's peace in the land. But if you have
-- if you are in your world and she's in her world and he's in her world, that kind of community doesn't exist. That kind of the situation doesn't
exist that allow us the push and pull that we need in order to function correctly.
ISAACSON: So, how do we regain that sense of community? We self-sorted in schools, as you've said. Our neighborhoods, they're no longer like the ones
of Chicken Hill, where people are thrown together.
MARTIN: There's a lot more integration that people really pay attention to. And in some ways, we're not really paying attention to the young people.
Some of it is our fault and not the fault of the internet. So, it does happen, we just don't witness it.
Remember, while "The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" takes place in the '30s and '40s, the story is about what happened in the '30s and '40s, we're
not hearing those stories. We hear them occasionally when someone comes up with a book or a first-person narrative about what happened. I mean, that's
"The Color of Water" was, it was like someone's -- you know, my mother's words about what her life was in this small Jewish town. And so, those
stories were happening, we just weren't documenting them.
ISAACSON: To what extent do you do historical research? I mean, I know you did it for the -- you know, the story about your mother, but do you try to
be a researcher when you write a novel?
ISAACSON: Oh, God. Oh, yes. I mean, my background was as a journalist. You know, I worked at the "Boston Globe" in "The Washington Post." I mean, I
had to. Yes. I did a-- UI mean, most of -- "Heaven and Earth Grocery Store" didn't take long to write. I wrote it over the summer, really, but it took,
you know, maybe 15 years to research.
I mean, I started researching this book like in 2008. Before really, because I always wanted to write a book about this camp with disabled
children that I worked at, and it didn't work out. Instead, it became this book. But I spent years researching it.
Really, for young writers and anyone who is really serious about writing, a lot of your work has to happen in libraries and historical societies and
through interviews to get to that real meat of a story, because you only use 10 percent of what you come up with, most of the time.
ISAACSON: You've said in the dedication of your book that during your college summers, you work at -- I think it's called The Variety Club Camp
for Handicapped Children. First of all, there's a deaf child in the book, a boy named Dodo. Tell me about him, and then let's talk about that camp,
because that seems important to this novel.
MCBRIDE: Well, Dodo really came from that Variety Club Camp experience. Dodo is a deaf child who completely loses hearing as a result of an
accident, and he doesn't want to go to school anymore because he can't communicate that well. He just doesn't like it. He's, you know, a black
child in the 1935, Pennsylvania. And his parents -- his uncle and aunt who are taking care of him take him to this -- to Chona and ask her to hide him
from the state, because the state is trying to take him and put him in the Pennhurst, which is a mental institution. So, that's the -- that's where
the conflict that pushes the book -- the narrative along.
In real-life, when I was working at the Variety Club Camp for handicapped or disabled children, or so-called disabled children, I met many kids like
Dodo. At Variety Club Camp, at the time, when I was there as a college student, I had kids from all walks of life, all walks of disabled life,
wheelchairs, crutches, cerebral -- what they called cerebral palsy, everything. And it was run by a man who was inspirational. His name was Sy
Friend, and he was inspirational director of the camp. And so, I wanted to write a book about the camp, but I couldn't. I ended up writing about this
town. But --
ISAACSON: Wait, wait. Why couldn't you write a book about the camp? What was so hard there?
MCBRIDE: Because every chapter I wrote sounded like a camp book. The kids get up. The great director comes and they love him. And that's really what
the camp, but the camp really wasn't like that. It was really about equality. That's where we really learn from the children. The children were
the teachers there. And Sy, the director, was just a conduit of truth. That's really what happened.
I mean, we were all underworked -- or overworked, underpaid, but these children, they had no barriers. And that's important to mention. The
children there, they were white, black, Jewish, catholic, Latino, they had no barriers. And you -- I couldn't write a book about it because it's just
impossible to show how love worked amongst these children.
ISAACSON: You quote Sy Friend, the director of that camp, teaching you about the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam. Explain that?
MCBRIDE: Well, it just means to make the world better. This is what you must to. And Sy never said those words to me. He just lived it.
ISAACSON: You know, but this concept of healing, this concept of Tikkun Olam, which is, you know, healing the world, that almost seems to be the
mission of your novel, including your latest novel. Is that true?
MCBRIDE: Well, I didn't write it that way. If it's just -- if that's how it comes out, it's just -- that was God's purpose for the book. I mean, you
know, I want people to love each other, but I don't want to say you should love each other. You know, you get out of the way of the story and you let
the people, the characters heal the world. You let them show what's possible.
When you show people what's possible, you're not telling them what to do, you're just showing them what's possible. One of the things I miss about
the book is that I don't -- I missed hearing Chona talk. I miss hearing Fatty yack away with his friends, Big Soap. I miss those people because
they were people I like, even if I didn't agree with what they said all the time.
ISAACSON: Are you worried about the spade of book bannings and that books like yours could even be vulnerable someday?
MCBRIDE: Let them ban the book. If they ban it, more people will come to it. You can't stop freedom, real freedom. They can say all they want, you
know, but at some point, the hate engine runs out of diesel fuel. I ain't scared of none of that. It's only -- the truth is, you know, as they say,
it will set you free. But the truth is, it takes a lot of engine to run the kind of hate machine everybody that is pushing against books.
All you need is one librarian to pull a book out and slip into someone. And you can believe me, they're slipping them books around. Librarians are the
real -- you want to talk about heroes? Those are the real heroes.
No, I'm not worried about it. I mean, I don't like it. But if this is what the war is, then let it wage, because in the long run, these books will
find their place. Because you and I are talking about it, and even though lots of people are afraid to talk about it, we know what the battle is.
So, I'm glad -- listen, you have a cancer, let it come out. We need these books. These books need to be in place. And we will find a way to put them
where they belong. So, if I'm on the banned book list, well, good. It's only going to make more people come to it. Put me in that -- I want to be
on that side. Put my name in capital letters. I mean, let's -- it's time to stop being so meek about all of this and just call it what it is. So, let
it roll as it will.
ISAACSON: James McBride, thank you so much for joining us.
MCBRIDE: All right. Thanks so much. Appreciate you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And finally, tonight, community turned out to remember Sinead O'Connor who always called it as it was, and who died last month at the age
of 56. Thousands of fans lined the streets of Bray on the Irish Coast where she lived for 15 years for a final farewell to the singer and activist. She
was propelled to stardom with her rendition of Prince's anthem "Nothing Compares to You," which fans sang today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Look at that crowd for Sinead. Later, she made headlines for ripping up a photo of the pope on "Saturday Night Live." Bidding farewell
today, some of her fans carried on her spirit of activism, waving pride flags and protesting political issues. The singer converted to Islam five
years ago, and Ireland's chief, Imam, let her funeral, which was attended by the Irish president and prime minister. And this large tribute appeared
on a hillside, Eire, Ireland love Sinead.
That's it for now. If you ever missed our show, you can find the latest episode shortly after it airs on our podcast. And remember, you can always
catch us online, on our website, and all over social media. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.