It’s easy to be jealous of — but hard not to like — Nicholas Kulish. The Cobble Hill-based author just turned 32, got married and published his first novel, “Last One In,” a satire about a New York gossip columnist who gets embedded with Marines in Iraq.
And if that’s not enough, after 10 years of calling Brooklyn home, he’s leaving to become the Berlin bureau chief of the New York Times.
“Things might seem fabulous at the moment,” Kulish told GO Brooklyn. “But two years ago, I thought I’d torpedoed my career.”
At that time, Kulish was working part time, sorting through the archives of the recently deceased Susan Sontag and trying to sell his book — with little success.
“When I wrote the book in 2004, no one would publish it,” Kulish recalled. “Everyone said it was too soon, that it might be protested or called unpatriotic. Most satires come out way after the actual event, [so] this was unorthodox.”
But Kulish was not just another writer with a dwindling bank account and a rejected manuscript. He had been a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal, reported on homeland security and the investigation of 9-11 and, like Jimmy, the protagonist in his novel, was embedded with the Marines in Iraq.
In 2005, Kulish — who calls himself a lucky pessimist — secured a part-time contract position at the Times. “It was a fluke,” he said.
Kulish is quick to say that his book is not based on his own experience in Iraq. In order to pull off the book as a satire, everything but the main character had to be completely accurate.
“From a research perspective, I put as much work into this book as someone from the Iowa writer’s workshop,” he said. “But I had the added perspective of being ripped from a North Eastern blizzard and dropped into Kuwait City with a bunch of Marines.”
His experience provided the background for the novel and a deeper understanding of the dynamic between journalist and Marine. “You go through intense things and these people become your friends,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you’re a reporter and you’re not really part of it. Everybody knows that, and if somebody does something bad, you’re going to write about it.”
Kulish’s novel has already garnered comparisons to Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.”
“It’s a hard comparison to the most beloved and polished novel of all time,” said Kulish. “Mine is much smaller than ‘Catch-22.’ It’s about one strange moment in U.S. history.”
From now on, Kulish will observe American history being made from abroad. “I live a very Brooklyn life,” he said, considering the past 10 years. “I mostly go to bars on Atlantic, restaurants on Court and Smith. When we returned from our wedding, we had a party at Bocca Lupo [on Henry Street].
“I wrote my whole first novel while living on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue in Park Slope,” he said. “Then I’d go to Johnny Mack’s on Seventh [Avenue] and drink. It was about a young man finding his way in New York … and it will never be published.”
No matter. Something tells us that the young man found his path anyway.
“Last One In” is available at BookCourt (163 Court St., at Dean Street in Cobble Hill). $13.95. For information, call (718) 875-3677 or visit www.nicholaskulish.c....