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Donostia Book Club

My name is Slawka Grabowska. I organize Donostia Book Club. We meet every month to discuss previously chosen books or short stories. Check out our FB page! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Donostia-Book-Club/105225566276875?ref=hl

Meeting a Genius, or Two...

So, what do you do when in one month you have a great opportunity of meeting two wonderful authors? You blog about it right away??? Nah, that would be way too easy. You think about it for about one week. And then it becomes one month. And then... it becomes two months. The summer is over and you have new books to review, new subjects to blog about. But THESE two great authors are still there, you still haven't written about them. And you just can't leave it and pretend it never happened, can you? So here I am. Trying to write about them. They both were born in Istanbul and they both have worldwide fame. They both are incredible erudites. But at the same time they are so different. I still have no idea how to start ;)


Orhan Pamuk and Petros Markaris. Gutun Zuria and Literaktum. Bilbao and San Sebastian. Two literature festivals, two cities, two big writers that are so intelligent that it must be a real challenge to interview them!


Orhan Pamuk signing one of his novels for me


Orhan Pamuk visited Bilbao during Gutun Zuria in April (05.04.2014). Nice and open, first was interviewed by Ana Aizpiri, then patiently sat down at the table in the lobby signing the books of all those who came. He stole my heart when he recognized that my book was a Polish translation and took time to make some personal comments. For a moment I forgot how to speak, so I seriously doubt I charmed him the same way. But at the same time, his conversation with Ana Aizpiri wasn't as great. Don't get me wrong! He had lots of things to say and he was talkative and polite, even joking at moments... But he just was unpredictable. I had the impression the journalist was struggling to follow his incredible mind. She was well prepared, so the fault was not her lack of knowledge, but rather his quick mind. Look at me, complaining because of someone being too sharp, who would have thought! He knows so much, and there is this passion in him for everything he starts talking about, that from time to time it may almost look like he's showing off. Which I'm sure he's not. Perfect description of a Nobel Prize Winner (2006).


Petro Markaris with Teresa Flaño


On the other hand Petros Markaris during Literaktum in San Sebastian in May (15.05.2014) seemed to be slowing down for all the listeners to understand him and to enjoy the conversation. He was interviewed by Teresa Flaño and it was also her skills that made the conversation so approachable for everyone. But that was not the only occasion for him to interact with his fans – just before the conference he met some of them on a little 'coffee meeting' and answered some questions in a more private atmosphere. That might have also influenced the following conference. Oh, and I just have to say it: his English was perfect!


So what did they have to say? The festival in Bilbao was all about "Frontier stories". Orhan Pamuk talked a lot about history of the Ottoman Empire and about modern Turkey. Unfortunately most of the questions from the public were also about modern Turkey and not about his writing. There were some personal, half-serious stories, like the one about his name (it means „ruler”): „My mother named me Orhan because she didn't want me to do anything striking. And so I did.” And a bit more serious, and probably the most personal question: about his own identity. Answering that he mused: „I'm a writer. A writer's identity is obvious. But then, when you're asking a Turkish identity, an Ottoman identity or living in Istanbul... I would say an interesting thing about Turkish identity is, because it is carrying baits of history, ethical, moral dilemmas of both wanting to be modern and secular, and joining the global world in 1920s-30s, and its desire to invent a Turkishness that is different from any other thing, which the only way of doing is reducing it to history, which is Ottoman history. And these ideas are contradictory. The essential element about the Turkish identity, I would say, is being worried about what's my identity all the time.” He also said that he considered the novel „My Name is Red” his most optimistic novel, because “it's written with the joy of talking about painting”. And why would that made it optimistic? Again, in his own words: „I wanted to be a painter between the ages of 7 and 22. When I was 7 I drew a pigeon, or a crow and everyone in my family said . Which I believed and my mother gave me an empty flat I used as a studio and everyone expected that I would be a prominent Turkish painter. Which didn't work out. There is no one single answer, why in the end I stopped painting. The whole book explains that and why I became a writer.” If you know his books, you might be asking yourself, how many of them take place in Istanbul? All of them. There are some like “The New Life” or “Snow” that mostly happen in other places, but there are always some chapters in Istanbul. As he explains, he is called by many people “the writer of Istanbul” and that pretty much says it all. He was not aware of it, until the nickname was coined and someone just pointed it out to him. But yes, Istanbul is his city, his whole life and there were very long periods when he didn't leave it, at times for more than 20 years, so yes, he is the writer of Istanbul.


Petros Markaris on the other hand was very friendly and warm and from the very first minutes was generating some friendly reactions (first fan approached him on the street just in front of the hotel) but he focused mostly on his writing and, how not, on the crisis. He mentioned being tired of answering the questions about crisis and being a 'crisis author' in Europe, but at the same time you could see hm very passionate about the subject. His 'crisis trilogy' describes not only people in Greece but in many European countries, so people identify with it a lot. Sometimes maybe too much, since on its original Greek edition the publisher decided to add the warning: “Do not imitate in real life”. Asked if he planned the trilogy from the very beginning to be not only crime novels but also a social commentary, he said that he had planned as he did all his Costas Haritos books and that he had only 2 guidelines: to decribe 3 aspects of crisis and how it affects the life of Haritos. He also joked he doesn't plan how to write anything, because it is always Costas that tells him what to write and what is happening in his life, so he is not creating anything, it's his main character simply dictating a story. He also confesed he never considered changing the subject or the main character of his stories: he likes writing about Haritos and he's not going to abandon him. Also at the time (May) he was finishing the next novel of the cycle – the epilogue to the trilogy, so lets hope we will see it soon in bookshops (that already depends on a publisher not on the author). Unlike Pamuk (who avoided answering this question), Markaris had no problems with recommending the authors to read. He himself was influenced by Georges Simenon and Ed McBain and these the first two authors he would recommend.


What are my thought after seeing them both? The main one is a confirmation of what I already knew: you don't have to be writing a very difficult novels for few to be a great author. Big words, difficult structures don't make the writer. But the ability to buy our interest, sometimes with one simple sentence does.