At 2 Paragraphs there is a cool interview series in which international writers respond to a the following Tolstoy quote and follow-up question: “I know that my unity with all people cannot be destroyed by national boundaries.” Is a similar belief essential in your work? Or are cultural and national distinctions a critical component of your voice? Who do you write for?
Among the many great writers who provide an answer is Czech novelist, poet and playwright Jáchym Topol, who says, among other things: “The boundaries between people, the gaps that we run up against, are more interesting for writing than the ‘unity of humanity,’ and Count Tolstoy was well aware of it.” This, incidentally, seems to run counter with what Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri says, which is that “I believe in the fundamental unity of all people. It is not possible to write truly well without that fundamental belief.”
Kudos to South African writer Zoë Wicomb, who points out the vital role of translators in all this unity and literature making, translators being “those often-overlooked magicians whose business it is to beat down national boundaries and feed our imaginations with worlds of difference.”
And then there’s Hamid Ismailov, who jokingly refers to himself as “the first really Soviet writer”. Ismailov’s novel The Underground was just published by Restless Books and you can read the opening chapters in this week’s Saturday European Fiction in B O D Y.
Photo – Jáchym Topol