TALKING TO THE AUTHOR: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARINA ŠUR PUHLOVSKI
An anti-love story set in 1970s Croatia. An attempt to love, and attempt to succeed, at a time of economic hardship. The tale of a woman who must go wild to free herself from socially and historically imposed ‘prisons’ and a nightmarish marriage. Wild Woman by Marina Šur Puhlovski, published by Istros Books, is the story of an everywoman from a poor family looking for freedom.
Croatian writer Marina Šur Puhlovski has answered a few questions for our blog, taking us through her career as a literature-loving self-made writer, her work, her characters, her past and future projects.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your journey to becoming an author?
I became an author when I published my first story – when I was twenty-five. But I started writing much earlier. I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t obsessively reading and writing. Until I was eighteen, I wrote poetry, and then I encountered T. S. Eliot – and, to my horror, had to admit that I will never be able to write such powerful poetry. So, I won’t write poetry anymore, I told myself, and turned to prose. However, I didn’t want to follow fashionable postmodernist trends, I had other criteria, I was looking for “my voice”. Moreover, I thought my generation of writers was slowly but surely sinking into kitsch. I separated myself, resisted, got left all alone and – unrecognized. I wrote nine books before I managed to get my first one published in 1991. I was 43 then and the war just broke out in former Yugoslavia. Publishing days were over. After the war, and nearing fifty, I found myself in a situation where I had been writing my whole life and I authored just one book. It looked hopeless. But when writing is your life – there is no despairing. I managed to publish all of the books “from the drawer,” as well as those I wrote later on. A few years ago, I met an extraordinary editor, Drago Glamuzina (from V.B.Z. publishing house) and I am finally on track. I published three books in the span of a year and six months – all written earlier. And Wild Woman, my twentieth book, became a hit – for our standards, of course.
Was there a book/author in particular that inspired you to become a writer?
There wasn’t. In my earliest childhood days, I discovered the world of the unreal – and wanted to remain there. First as a reader, then as an author. That does not mean there aren’t any writers who have formed me. I studied comparative literature, which means world literature, and that was my “writing school”. There were none back then. We learnt from the masters whose books weren’t eaten by time. They were my support in difficult times when I couldn’t find a publisher. There I found an affirmation of my understanding of literature – as a search for truth. I didn’t think of literature as a game and a fun way to kill time. I didn’t think that mastering the craft and letting the words lead you was enough. If the author isn’t present in every word they write – they are nowhere… Then art doesn’t exist anymore. All that remains is empty form. Words without concepts. I studied Goethe, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Hardy, Kafka, Joyce, T. Mann, Camus, and many others – but, you see, they were all fathers. And mothers? It took some time for me to realize and wonder about my world. A woman’s world. A world of different experiences, different views. I didn’t have a role model there. I formed myself.
How did Wild Woman come to life? What motivated you to write this story?
Events from youth… All my novels and stories belong to the same life. I never made up stories – they came on their own. In my youth, an astrologist told me I will live a life filled with events and above average in terms of intensity of experience. She was right. Life offered me an abundance of material – and it was up to me to discover the truth of what happened, to pierce into destiny. Which I feel as my own – not someone else’s, as most of today’s writers do. The protagonist of Wild Woman, Sofija Kralj, is the main character in my three other novels – Nesanica (“Insomnia”), Ljubav (“Love”) and Igrač (“Player”). They represent three lives of the same character, told from different perspectives and through different relationships. In Wild Woman, Sofija Kralj is twenty-seven, in Insomnia – fifty-seven. The story from Wild Woman is present in Nesanica, as an episode. That episode grew up to become a novel. Many side characters from the novels have been given a story in one of my five story collections. I’ve built an entire world that way, with all of the social and political connotations. All of those novels and stories function independently from each other, you don’t have to be familiar with any of the others to understand one of them.
Did you have a particular audience in mind when writing the book? And how does it feel to know that your work has been translated into a global language such as English?
I never have an audience in mind. I don’t write novels with targeted, attractive topics. I don’t write genre prose. As I said already: I am building a world. I am striving to come ever closer to the Secret. I am seeking truth without hope that I will ever reach it, but, who knows, maybe that is precisely where the meaning lies, in the search. Because, as Kafka said, “Truth is perhaps life itself.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t consider the reader at all; I stick to Horatio’s “Dulce et utile” (enjoyable and instructive). Literature isn’t a philosophical debate, nor is it only an entertainment tool: it is both, in its own way. And I am sure that the “language” of truth is universal, that it knows no limits, that truth alone is enough to capture readers – if it manages to reach them. If literary politicking doesn’t “steal” its audience.
Regarding the second question – for a writer who has been marginalized in a small environment for half a century, it is incredible to suddenly reach the readers of the world. Like turning from an ugly duckling into a swan. Somewhere around forty I wrote in my diary: “I think my literary failure is just a joke which will be funny one day.” So, it happened, and I am laughing…
What is your experience of being a translated author?
This is the first time one of my books has been translated – I have no experience in that regard.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yes, I am. I am writing a fifth book about Sofija Kralj – the sequel to Igrač and Wild Woman. Once again from a new perspective. I have also found a “misplaced” novel which I have written twenty years ago – Wild Woman before Wild Woman, a portrait of an artist as a young woman, to paraphrase Joyce. It will be published next year. I am also arranging the publication of my five-hundred-page diary which I wrote between the ages of thirty and forty-five. It is not the usual everyday kind of diary; it is literature in itself. Deliberations on life and literature. Because I haven’t been writing just novels, stories, travelogues, I contemplated literature through diary entries and essays. I wrote about literature. I am also preparing a poetry collection which I wrote recently in one great wave of inspiration. I have returned to my first love.
Are there any Croatian writers you would like to recommend to our readers and/or would like to see translated into English?
Since postmodernism has cancelled the difference between art and kitsch – literary production became enormous. I can’t follow everything; I follow sporadically. But, you see, we are a very small literary scene, we all know each other, and every recommendation of one author is an insult to the one who hasn’t been recommended. So, I better refrain from making any kind of recommendation. I have already incurred two lives worth of displeasure for my “hard” literary stances which I took in my essays “Književnost me iznevjerila” (“Literature Let Me Down”). I would like to save what’s left.
Read an excerpt from the book here!