As promised, here are the results of my LandingAuthor interview with author of Traveller of the Century Andrés Neuman:
CM: You have been featured on the list of Granta‘s Best Young Spanish language novelists and on the Bogotá 39 list. Do you feel that these lists achieve the result of bringing writers to the attention of a wider public and if so, has it benefited you in that way?
AN: Well, there are so many lists around, that sometimes I think that the most effective one would be a list of never-listed authors. More seriously (or not), to be honest I don’t know the practical results of those two lists. Nevertheless, each one of them had a very interesting nuance in terms of literary theory. Granta’s one represented, if I’m not wrong, the very first time that such an influential Anglophone publication was fully dedicated to non-English language authors. Which was quite a hopeful sign I guess. Regarding Bogotá 39 list, when it came out I realized that at least half of the writers included on it hadn’t lived in their born countries for a long time, so that they already had a kind of mixed national identity; and two of them (Daniel Alarcón and Junot Díaz) didn’t even write in Spanish language, so they were twice peripheral. I feel quite close to these alternative ways of looking at the Latin American tradition, since I was born in an Argentine home but I grew up in Spain.
CM: Following on from the Bogotá 39 list, with which the Hay Festival was involved, I would like to ask you about participation in literary festivals. Do you enjoy doing festivals and meeting readers and fellow writers or do you perhaps feel obliged to make appearances?
AN: Maybe both. On one hand, anything which implies leaving home painfully stops or at least delays the book you were working on. On the other hand, thanks to the festivals and book fairs you get to know two essential, yet often invisible for you, parts of your vocation: readers and colleagues. Most of the time you work alone, so when a reader appears you feel genuinely amazed: so they really existed! And they even had the patience of reading one of your books! When that happens, I’d like to apologize or returning them their money. In the end, I tend to think that travelling is literary healthy. Travels remind you that the world was much more complex than you thought. And that’s what literature is about, isn’t it?
CM: You have written a book based upon your travels around South America, your own back yard as it were, but do you have an urge to explore any other places with a view to writing and if so, where would you like to go?
AN: That book (Cómo viajar sin ver. Latinoamérica en tránsito/ How to travel without seeing. Latin America in transit) actually tells a trip across the whole Latin America, which is an immense planet itself. It’s an amazing experience to feel a foreign person twenty times, without changing of language. That’s a little miracle that Spanish language allows us. Where else I’d like to go to and write about? I’d prefer not to plan it: I enjoy much more when a place takes me by surprise. Precisely that surprise is what stimulates the muscle of attention.
CM: After having lived in both Spain and Argentina do you feel that you have a leaning towards the literature of one country more than the other?
AN: That’s a puzzling conflict which I have never got to solve. I have the inclination to look at Europe from a Latin American perspective, whereas when I’m in Argentina I often put myself in a Spaniard point of view. In fact, Argentine people usually ask me about Spain, and vice versa. So I’ve ended up assuming that’s my natural place: a sort of border between both countries or continents. I have a double citizenship and a double foreignness as well.
CM: As a book hoarder myself, I was much struck by your account of your parents’ house clearance in which the books were piled up to be measured by the dealer. How attached are you to your books now? Do you keep everything you buy or have a purge every now and then?
AN: When my family left Argentina and we had to sell quickly almost everything we had (even the toys of my whole childhood, which was a painful thing to do at that time), I learned that collecting things is much less important than remembering them deeply –and telling them under the form of stories. I’m not too fond of collecting things now. I really don’t mind to drop or give any kind of stuff. But I must confess that I hate to lose (an even to lend, what a sin!) the books I have already read. I usually underline and take notes on them, so perhaps the only things I’d save from a sinking would be my read books -and my laptop. Will e-books eventually change our fetishistic attitude towards printed objects? Who knows. Maybe. I’ve got a kindle and I love it. Though I wouldn’t trust monster enterprises like Google, Amazon, Apple or Microsoft as the exclusive guardians of our memories.
CM: I am interested in how it feels to have your work translated. No matter how good the translator, it must be somewhat dislocating to see your words rendered by him/her into another language. Can you talk about that a little?
AN: You’re right. Dislocating. And revealing too. I do feel that foreign languages teach you a lot about your mother tongue. Maybe that’s poetry about: looking at your mother tongue as it was a foreign one. That’s why I enjoy so much the whole translation process, both as a translator or as the translated one. Translators need to suspect of every single word, just as poets do. So, when your book is translated, you learn unforeseen meanings on it. As if the author wasn’t you. And actually you’re not. What translators do is not only transferring your own words into a different language. But radically transforming their connotations and nuances, often for good. Good translators (just like good mistakes!) are able to enhance the original intention. That’s why I don’t expect my translators to respect me too much: I rather to be shamelessly invaded by them.
CM: I was looking at your blog and Facebook pages and I was wondering whether you have willingly embraced the social media platforms that so many writers use to promote their work, or whether you have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the computer to engage with your virtual friends?
AN:Interestingly, my personal blog and Facebook page are two very different, if not opposite, cases. The blog Microrréplicas is entirely written and updated by me. I consider it just another part of my literary work, indeed not below the books. Whereas the FB profile was actually opened, and is still ruled, by a nice group of readers. They are the only ones who decide what to put on it, and when and how. I think that’s fair. Personal contact with readers can be really great, and sometimes deeply moving. But I guess that keep always interacting online can also be tricky for a writer, since a good book needs quite a lot of solitude and time to be written. And its feed-back is much more a long-term one. So maybe the most respectful thing that writers can do for those wonderful virtual friends is, precisely, to dedicate most of their time to work hard on their books. Which will be hopefully read, discussed, loved or hated on social networks.
CM: And finally….. I have based my blog content on tackling the unread books lurking on my bookshelves. Do you have a ‘TBR Pile’ and if so, what is on it?
AN: Oh, that’s my favourite wet dream: to read everything I haven’t read yet. I have no just one, but several ‘to be read’ piles everywhere at home. The most interesting pile is, of course, the bathroom one: the only place in which nothing can seriously interrupt our reading. What’s on that pile right now? Let’s see: a biography of Chéjov written by my beloved Natalia Ginzburg, the first volume of Philip K. Dick complete short stories, Houellebecq’s new novel, Pierre Michon’s penultimate, an anthology of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, several young Argentine novelists, a very good half-read book of stories by James Lasdun, a collection of fragments by wonderful Spaniard philosopher María Zambrano, last Julian Barnes’ book, a manual of compared mythology (what the hell is doing that here?), a travel book about Italy by Stendhal, a political essay by Cameroon activist Achile Mbembe titled Necropolitics, an anthology of contemporary Welsh poets (recently found in Cardiff), a couple of comics, some old and crumpled and dirty newspapers… If I resurrected, I’d dedicate that extra life exclusively to pending books. I promise. Well, I don’t. Will there be a bathroom after death?
Many thanks to Andrés Neuman for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ll be posting up a blog post about Traveller of the Century shortly.
Picture credits: All of the illustrations used here were taken from Andrés Neuman’s official website with thanks.