After the knockout success of Brick Lane, Monica Ali chose to leap continents in her next book, Untold Story, about a British royal hiding out in Middle America—a heroine clearly modeled on Princess Diana. O magazine says her new work is an "unapologetic hybrid of a novel, a literary examination of identity and a page-turning thriller, complete with car chase." It's a story about what's mysterious and what's knowable. We asked Ali to tell us a few discoveries she's made—both large and small.

The place courage comes from: Courage can be born of different factors. It can be a kind of recklessness, a not caring. It can be born of desperation; it can be a mixture of strongheadedness, or it can be born of real inner strength. And sometimes it's a combination of all those things.

The difference between being courageous and pretending to be: I think there's very little difference. If you don't have fear, then in what way are you being courageous?

What stands in the way of knowing each other: Identity is complicated, especially in modern life. We have one identity when we're online. We have another identity at the school gate, or in the local community, or as a professional, or as a partner, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend.

Why that's not a bad thing: I don't think that means any one of them isn't the true you—just that the true you is going to be very complicated.

The most daring thing she's ever done: I spent six months away from my family [in Britain]. I went to teach at Columbia University in New York. I didn't have a nanny or anything like that. My husband can't cook. It felt really quite radical to me—to have faith that the world would work out. But it did.

The most daring thing she wishes she had done: Skiing. I tried once. My husband's a keen skier. The idea of being out of control going down a mountain...I couldn't do it.

A useful exercise in life: Take the inverse of the situation. Even if it's just hypothetical, turn the thing that's really bugging you around to see what's good about it. Or with somebody you're having a difficult time with—can you say, "What's good in this person?"

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