“Reality, fiction, which is which, which is the other?” – Interview with Radu Pavel GHEO

In my Timisoara, Gheo and Alina Radu are the main characters. Disco Titanic, his latest novel, published in Polirom at the end of last year, will make you remember many things from our recent history. This interview is an invitation to read. Radu Pavel Geo He’s the type of writer you easily relate to. He is subtle, has a sense of humor and warmth.

A few years ago, I exchanged some emails about Croatia, just before I went on vacation. The only one I spent there. Then she wrote to me with great enthusiasm about places and people. When I read Disco Titanic I remembered that summer and understood how things were related/happened. How much does your reality imagination need?

I feel like saying: What is fantasy and what is reality? Over time, the two become quite entangled, and sometimes — often, especially in literature — fiction somehow takes the place of reality: Joyce in Dublin is more “real” world today than concrete 19th-century Dublin.

Reality is the starting point and the medium of imagination. After all, fictional prose always speaks of plausible reality. It is realistic, equivalent, magical mythical – it also refers to our world. The writer lures the reader with the illusion of reality, to immerse him in his story. I think – I don’t want to sound flashy, but that’s what I think – that writers are second-rate flaws: they create a world that didn’t exist before, with characters, places, and events, they just don’t have the power to do it out of nowhere. They have to rely on the existing world, and add their own to it.

This fact of the first order—historical and social, as it is—is important for exactly what motivates the reader: the real impact. You superimpose fiction on known reality and thus, in some way like a chameleon, give your fictional world a reality. As at the end of World War Llosa. Hence the need for documentation and accuracy (please, as much as possible) in details. If you immerse the reader in this reality of ours, the reality of communist and post-communist Romania, with its history – the pathetic glamorous discotheques of the 80s, the December revolution, the absurd transition, Caritas, shady acts and the enrichment of the crisis – or the war from the former Yugoslavia, with its civil war, concentration camps and terror there, If I recreate that real world, my story – fictional or not – could sneak in, who knows? Who cares when the illusion is true? If Laura’s Camp and the Titanic Disco existed, why aren’t Vlad Zhivan and his friends in Split? Or Emilia Ultiano and her 1989 college classmate, Radu Pavel Gio?

In the first act of the novel, there is a balcony in Timisoara where Vlad and three of his friends talk over beer about secession, the Banat Republic, and corrupt myths. Look, when summer comes, if you pass through Timisoara, we go there and I guarantee that you will hear your friends discussing the same things – they or others. Reality, fiction… what is one, what is the other?

I remembered what you said in the interview with Lavinia Bălulescu about the changes in your life: the birth of two children. Because, in the new composition, you are the “Land of Flowers”. Can this formula also be applied to literature/book? And if so, in what way?

I would say there are other types of continuity. Once the fiction book is published, it’s a little detached from the author, who doesn’t matter much anymore. Of course, there has always been an interest in the writer’s biography hidden in the opera, because people like to search for a match between fiction and reality (that’s what we writers take advantage of). Are Nikolai Muromet and Marine Breda children? And Eli Muromet is his father? Stephen Daedalus and James Joyce? What does the writer reveal in this novel about the secrets of his personal life?

Remember that after a good night, kids! , came all sorts of discussions about who “embodies me”. It was usually said that I would be Paul, the committed writer who remained in Iaşi. Although, on the other hand, I immigrated to America, just like Marius. Not to mention how much speculation has been made about the identity of Yash critics from the (totally fictional) cultural magazine Gazeta. But in reality, the biography does not matter much: the direct and immediate relationship is between writers and readers. Ten, twenty, or forty years later, when—and if—anyone else will read Goodnight, children! Do you think they will search for the correspondence from the “real” reality?

Perhaps, in this sense, when we write, we are really a land of flowers. or herbs.

The recent past, the recovery of historical and emotional memory will be two red threads in your novel, as worlds change and with them the lives of the protagonists. Is communism still obsessed with contemporary Romanian literature? And I ask you because I feel that we are the last guards of this trauma.

Yes, we are the last, I hope we are. It’s like that Chinese curse: being able to live in good times. We had fun times and obviously the Romanian communist writer or whatever was an excellent inspiration. But in the end, the whole human story is important, the way in which man changes, with his aspirations and banalities, by dreams and ideals and failures, by gestures of altruism and sheer ruthlessness. We grow old and let go of who we were. We give in to the belief that we are ripe. Communism, like colonialism or slavery, is nothing more than a violent environment in which his life unfolds. Repressive societies that distort the individual have been and will be. As you know, there was a dry joke about the incompatibility between capitalism and communism, made clear by a narrower activist: “Capitalism means exploitation of man by man, while in communism it is quite the opposite.” Next time it will be the other way around.

I think we write about the world of yesterday and today because we know it better. And because it deserves to be known, not because it will spare the horrors of the past. People will fantasize and resort to other horrors that others write about in their time.

Because the revolution is an important point in the story, what were you doing on December 22? How are you, what were you thinking?

On December 22nd, I was at my mother’s house, in CFR canton where she was living at the time, somewhere in the field. However, on the evening of December 17, I was in Timisoara and walked the streets, first alone, and then with a colleague. We walked with the rows of protesters, got lost in some streets, and at one point a line of detectors flashed over my head, and I came across a column of armored vehicles that entered the city … I said that evening in the Pink Book of Communism, coordinated by Horaţiu Decuble (in 2004, In Versus Publishing House). But on December 22, I was there in the canton, anxiously listening to the symphonic music of the Central Radio Station, and I knew something was going on. Then the voice of an announcer was heard announcing an important announcement for the country. I was certain that it was over, that I had caught the fall of communism.

I said by hand, your novels have more pages than other writers, that you work with character sheets and notes. What does the “kitchen” of your books look like, literally and figuratively?

An organized mess, that’s what it looks like. When I build the plot, the characters, the details, I write on the sheets, on the dozens of sheets, all the things that can be useful to me. Tay, I correct, I rewrite, I make letter and detail lists of places, chronologically as accurate as possible—by days and even by hours—so I feel in control. I also have dozens of information files on my computer, who – what can I say? – The way the German mark or the Yugoslav dinar looked, even reports of certain places or events. And only then, when the whole story came to mind, did I start writing the novel.

Usually about a third of the collected material does not fit into the book in a hint, but it allows me to move freely through this world. This is also the big problem with writing (but also the magic of it): because you never write the same thing, in every book you start documenting yourself and researching and learning something again, as if you were always doing something new. In fact, it is.

I have translated and written many books. What are the surprises of the last few years?

Surprises, and not good books, because there were enough of them: Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Jack London – I knew with them what to expect. So, at first glance, John Fowles’ memoir was a surprise to me, a sad, disturbing, even tragic book. I didn’t fall for Fowles’ novels, but the magazines shocked me a little.

Among the books written, it is more difficult here, there were many. But a new book comes to mind, Ian McEwan’s Walnut Shell, probably because it has been translated so well, so I enjoyed the book as much as I was writing it.

What did you learn from the authors you translated? How did you choose them? What are important meetings?

I usually do not choose my translations, my colleagues from Polirom suggest them to me. It’s true that translation is something other than creativity, but I think I learned something from every translation. Any reading is a good lesson, but in translations it’s more than that: when you search for the most appropriate Roman form of a sentence, an adjective, or even intonation, you learn something instinctively.

In Hemingway, Roth or McCarthy was an extra. I can’t say exactly what, but it was.

What would you like your children to ask you if they read your books?

“Dad, did you write these thick books? Why? Can I bite them? Can I break the cover? Read to me too. Or not, read to Marina (Stefan), I’ll play. Did you write stories? Tell me a story. I wrote it with Snow Maiden, Isn’t it? And the Happy Prince? And Cinderella? And Ishmael and Tarnavitto? All of them, yes?”

There is a lot of music on Disco Titanic. Do you hear anything when you type? Are you trying new things?

When I write, I write quietly: at night, in the kitchen, without anything to distract me. I listen to myself – it seems precious, but it is true: I listen to my mind, and when it is silent, I fail it. With coffee and nicotine.

I try new things as they come over me. I don’t even have to look for them, I find myself alone. Sometimes I’m late – as was the case with children – but I’m sure.

Recorded by Anna Maria Sando

Photo: Alina Radu

Leave a Comment