- Interviewed by : Gouthama Siddarthan
Gouthama Siddarthan, is a modern poet, short fiction writer, essayist and literary critic in modern Tamil literature. He is running ‘Unnatham’ a modern Tamil literary magazine. He has 17 volumes in all, spanning poetry, fiction and essays, to his credit. Honoured with several literary awards in his 30 years of…
(I launched Alephi Online English Literature Magazine for the first time last September 2016. I did a lot of interviews with various international literary personalities, with the excitement a new magazine would have. The first interview was with Isabel Allende, the greatest author of my favorite Latin American literature.
Within 24 hours of the questions being emailed, the answers arrived. I could not believe it. Recognizing the simple man without the slightest hesitation and shaking his hand lovingly. That is the reason why the Latin American literature is successful.
Interview with one of the foremost writers in the world of international literature from an unknown person!
Am I in the real world? or in wonderland?
On the day that that interview came in, I felt like I was flying without my legs on the ground.
I immediately translated it into Tamil and published it in a Tamil magazine.
I also published in Alephi English Online Magazine. Then I stopped Alephi for economic reasons. Now 4 years later I have started again with old enthusiasm. Now, international young writers have joined hands to take my writing movement forward.
Thanks to everyone.
I am publishing that interview again now.
Many thanks to Isabel Allende’s Assistant, Chandra Ramirez for making this interview possible!)
The literary path put forward by the Latin American boom was an offshoot of the postmodern literary trends or was it a native growth of the Latin American soil? Did it have a lot of local flavour in it?
The precursor of the Boom probably was Alejo Carpentier in Cuba. He lived part time in France, where he befriended some of the Surrealists. That movement would put together ordinary things to create an unlikely event. For example, a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table. Carpentier said that in Latin America you didn’t need to put those objects together because they were there already. The challenge was to find a language and a style to tell our Latin America reality that was not limited by the European esthetic. Thus magic realism was created. The best known representative was Gabriel Garcia Marquez with her novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was not surrealism for us. It depicted our crazy reality.
Could you please briefly elaborate on what your new book talks about ?
My new novel is set on a terrible snow blizzard in the state of New York in January of 2016. The action starts in a brownstone house in Brooklyn, owned by a professor at the University of NY. A visiting female Chilean writer rents the basement apartment of the house. On the night of the storm a young undocumented immigrant girl from Guatemala comes to them asking for help in a life and death situation. The professor and the journalist could just call the police, but instead they decide to help the girl and then the adventure that would change their lives starts.
A quote by Albert Camus is the essence of the story: in the midst of winter I found in me an invincible summer. My characters are living in one of those long winters that we all have to experience, a time that seems eternal when we feel down, nothing works for us, we are trapped in our routines, bored and depressed. When they open their hearts and decide to take risks, they find in them the “invincible summer” that we all have. The summer of the soul is always inside us, we just have to allow it to manifest itself.
You hail from a bureaucratically powerful family. Your literary endeavours- are they a part of opening up the power corridors or were they a means to achieving power?
My writing has nothing to do with politics. My cousin, Isabel Allende Bussi is a senator in Chile and often people confuse me for her. I have never participated in politics and I am not interested in that kind of power. However, social and political issues appear constantly in my books because they are part of our reality and often they determine the characters’ fate.
The Tamil tradition gives importance to women. It has matriarchal roots. From that perspective, I ask this question: is the story telling method of magical realism born from such a women-centric background?
As I explained before, the literary tradition of magic realism was influenced by European surrealists, who were mostly men. However, as Garcia Marquez explained often, his wonderful novel was written in the tone that his grandmother spoke and most of the stories and characters in the book are taken from his own family. That was also the case in my first novel, The House of the Spirits, which is based on my family, specially my grandmother, Clara Del Valle in the book. Magic realism seems natural in Latin America, we are aware of the mystery that surrounds us and we accept the extraordinary without trying to explain it. I suspect that’s also the case among the Tamil. This attitude is not only feminine, most men have it too.
What is the role/place of “woman” / “feminism” in the Latin American storytelling technique of magical realism?
The boom of Latin American literature, characterized by magic realism, was an all male event. There were no women among the famous writers of the Boom. In those novels women often played the classic roles of mother, bride and whore. Few of those male writers created memorable and believable female characters that escaped the clichés. But women have been writing in Latin America since the eighteenth century, kept on writing during the Boom (from the 60s to the 80s) even if they were not recognized as part of the Boom, and they are still doing so. Fortunately, now women are published, reviewed and respected, although never as much as men.
In one of your interviews you have mentioned that ” I do not plan and write my stories, they write by themselves” (sic). Does it mean, that you consciously mention this, keeping in mind the “autofiction” way of story crafting? Does it not conflict with the unique story telling method of your land and language ( the magical realism style)?
I try to write without much of a plan, letting the characters reveal themselves to me and the story evolve in whatever direction it may well choose. I don’t think of “my style”. Every story has its own way of being told, there is no formula in my writing. And I don’ use magic realism as salt and pepper to spice up all my books, I only use it when it is relevant to the story. Fiction needs to be believable.
How do you view the contemporary Latin American literary condition?
The Boom is over and the interest of readers in the works has shifted away from Latin America but we have new generations of writers, many of them women, who are just as good as their literary ancestors.