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Interview: Ornela Vorpsi

An excerpt from Ornela Vorpsi's The Country Where No One Ever Dies--out today in English from Dalkey Archive--appears in the November 2009 issue of The Collagist. She was born in Tirana, Albania and now lives in Paris. The Country Where No One Ever Dies was her first novel and won several prizes in Italy, including the Grinzane Cavour and Viareggio Prizes. It has since been published in fourteen languages.

Here, she speaks about this novel with Collagist contributor Josh Maday, who reviewed the book in our September Issue.

1. Can you talk about the inspiration for The Country Where No One Ever Dies? What was on your mind while you were writing this book?

I cannot say precisely where and how I found my inspiration for this book, if it is indeed inspired, as I abandoned myself to the process of writing, without even thinking about writing a book or having it published, I just subjected myself to what was coming, organically, without seeing too clearly. Of course I wanted to talk about Albania. About some lives. About some people. It mattered deeply to me.

2. Throughout The Country Where No One Ever Dies, the narrators and many of the young female characters seem to share a lot of essential traits—live alone with their mother, father absent/in prison, visit grandmother, love books, etc—even though the specific details change, like the reason for the father’s absence/imprisonment and the names of the narrators and young female characters. The book feels phantasmagoric, as though the narrator inhabits different variations of her life, which could be a form of escape that she learned from reading books, but also a kind of scattering or erasure of the individual.  Can you talk about these apparent shifts and splits in the narrator through the novel?

I wish to underline that I was first trained as a painter and a photographer and I believe that this education, started at a young age, has forever left its mark or corrupted my “reading of the world”. I realized and still realize that I am not a writer of horizons, of the linear type. It seems to me that I proceed from one frame to the next, that I work through contrasts, rhythms of composition, all those tools belong to the field of visual arts. I often have the feeling that my phrasing is not that of an “orthodox” writer, that words come to me through different mechanisms, not necessarily through “la parole”, through the word. I was wanted those Albanian stories not to belong to a single character, for it that would have felt to me something rather dishonest. I needed different character names so as to feed each of them their private host of Albanian misery.

3. Grimm’s Fairy Tales is referenced by name in the novel as a book precious to the narrator and is also forbidden fruit for its deviance from “reality.” Specifically, the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” has its DNA woven into the book—visiting or living with Grandmother appears in many chapters (including “Bel Ami”), named as the narrator’s favorite bedtime story in “Christ’s Thorn,” etc. Can you talk about the influence and function of fairy tales in The Country Where No One Ever Dies?

Fairy tales were most important to me during my youth, having had, more than anything else, the power to give rise in me dreams of unbelievable violence. Even life itself, waiting at the door, didn’t galvanize me in such a way. The difference between fairy tales available to readers in a so called “free” democratic, western country with the ones created on purpose in a want to be communist regime was very fascinating to me. That was the reason I became so caught up in them, and for so long. Of course, I was more taken by the fairy tales imported from “free” countries, where the slightest motion of a magic wand made impossible materialize, whereas the tales produced in Albania were forced into the service of ideology, which, I’m sorry to say, made them less charming.

4. No doubt, something changes in a piece of writing that is translated. What are some of the changes you have seen in the translations of Il paese dove non si muore mai? Any differences particular to the English translation?

To be honest, I’m not so fluent in English that I can perceive fine nuances. But I trust Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck's work. Certainly, translation do alter the original, all the more in my case because my Italian is criss-crossed by other languages and personal, lived experiences. Lit by different suns.

5. Before focusing on writing, you engaged in the visual arts, publishing a book of photography, Nothing Obvious. Do you find that the modes of expression affect and/or overlap each other in your work? Do you feel more comfortable working in any particular medium?

Indeed, in my case, if I may dare say so, different modes of expression overlap in my work, more specifically in my writing. I feel more comfortable with photography, and that is why I value it less, perhaps wrongly so, and seek to confront myself to what I consider to be the “bigger battles”, that of writing and painting.

6. What other writing projects are you currently working on? Are any more of your books currently being translated into English?

I’m working on other books. I don’t know how they will turn out, if they turn out at all! And I hope Dalkey Archive will translate my other books as well. I’ve published four books so far.

7. What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

Yann Apperry’s Terre Sans Maître, a very ambitious novel. Victiore by Barbara Polla. Right now, I am reading Walter Benjamin, who exalts me, and Kierkegaard’s Either Or. I need to tell you this, what I read yesterday night. In a short passage, he speaks about a grave in an English village. The epitaph reads: “The most miserable of all.” Out of curiosity and empathy, some people opened the tomb and found there was no one inside. Kierkegaard ends the chapter saying the most miserable of men is the one who cannot die and leaves his grave empty.

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Reader Comments (1)

Great idea! Love seeing a creative mind work and gain success!!!!!! Hope it continues to grow!

August 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEnglish Translation

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