The writers who spend time in Iowa City never quite disappear from our horizon. Under the Periscope rubric we occasionally glance backward, spot an IWP alum, and ask a few personal and professional questions.
How, and where, is your writing going right now? (How) do ideas come to you?
I feel like I'm crossing a border at the moment—the border between my previous novel and a new one, which is still trying to find its exact contours. I don't push it too much. In the meantime I prefer to compose in some other genres: I write short stories and movie scripts.
Whatever you do, you will get some ideas for work. The problem is how to choose the best one, the idea that will grasp you and hold you for years ahead.
What are the books under your bed right now? What films do you see?
Right now I am reading several texts simultaneously: Cain, the last novel by José Saramago, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd, and two books by Pascal Quignard.
Regarding films I've seen recently, first of all I recall Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It's brilliant although this film has almost nothing in common with his first two masterpieces. I love Michael Haneke, and look forward to seeing his new movie celebrated at Cannes. And last week I watched - for the third time! - Takeshi Kitano's Achilles and the Tortoise. It's really great!
What marks has your time in the IWP, and in the US, left behind ?
Only the good and the excellent. I was extremely lucky to be able to work hard, and to finish my novel Don Ivan while staying in Iowa. It was quite a time! Nice people, ideal schedule, wonderful friends. . . I do appreciate the chance I got. Thank you, IWP!
What writers, or work, do you think should be getting more attention? Where is the liveliest movement in the Russian literary scene right now?
I'd like to think that pretty soon when speaking about contemporary Russian literature we shall return to the values of beauty and up-to-date aesthetics. Alas, in our country right now these are almost absent.
In your view, do literary festivals and awards open new directions? If yes, which ones do you pay attention to? Are there literary journals or on-line publications you keep up with ?
Sometimes they do. It's certainly important to follow the choices of the Nobel, Pulitzer, Cervantes or Booker juries. Although many can disappoint you, from time to time they open vivid pages in the newest history of literature.
As for the literary journals, I guess one of the most excellent in the world is the Russian Inostrannaya Literatura, whose credo is to introduce the best contemporary foreign authors to Russian readers. What is really great about this journal is that they choose the top translators for the task.
We have also several so-called “thick literary journals,” specializing in Russian literature. Unfortunately, they've lost plenty of readers in the last decades. For instance, Novy Mir, where I made my debut in 1990, has since reduced its monthly numbers by almost 500 %, from 2,700,000 to 5,500 copies. What a pity! We are losing a brilliant Russian cultural tradition, unique for many decades.
In what ways has your work been affected—in style, in themes, in responses—by global connectivity ?
I guess that my work has been affected in all these ways. In the last twenty years the world has changed significantly. Now we feel in a different way - both in space and in time; we think in different ways about who we are and where we're going; we even breathe in different way. . . It would be weird if my work didn't respond to all these changes.
What pressing political or social issues in your part of the world should be given global attention?
First of all, the “turn of the screw” in the field of human rights that is taking place in an impulsive, very cruel, and rather inadequate manner. I am afraid that the changes we are now facing in Russia can have grave and very negative consequences.
What role should the state have with respect to culture, and the arts?
The state should be responsible, and pretty much farseeing. A cut of the budget for culture signals a lot of trouble—trouble that comes fast and is inevitable—in the economy as a whole. This has already been proven so many times that it must have been apparent to any politician a long time ago. Of course, it isn't just a question of money. Culture and the arts demand special attention, and must be treated like a real treasure: you must be not allowed to touch it without particular skills, respect, and knowledge. Besides, it mustn't be permitted to touch these crucial things by hands that are dirty. In the end, arts and culture produce the best variety of freedom. We need this freedom to survive as humans.
What is your utopia?
It's rather simple: I'd like to see people reading everywhere, every day. If they want to read some of my books as well, I won't mind…