Did you always have a premonition that one day you would be a writer?
I didn’t exactly have a premonition, but I wanted it so much, I dreamed about it. While other kids identified with characters from the books we had all read, I remember identifying with the authors. In my story I Will Be a Writer I recorded my first “experience” of this kind, when in the classroom I declared or “admitted” that I would be a writer, on which occasion I was ridiculed. It was actually worse than publicly saying that I was in love with a girl in the class. Yes, I have always read a lot and it seems to me I have always wanted to be a writer. Since my early days when I didn't even know exactly what the profession of a writer entails.
You have a successful literary career as a writer in the Croatian language: poet, essayist, novelist... You also translate from German. Could you give us an idea of what you are working on now and what your plans are.
This year I turned 60, and I don't even dare write how many of my books have been published. I get frightened by the number: about 50 books: poetry, prose, essays, novels, short stories, diaries, translations, and many of them were published in several editions. In the coming years six of my books of selected works will be published, and at a steady pace: one book a year. And those books are fairly big, fairly thick. So I can say that in terms of books published I have quite a large and varied output. This year a book of my poetry is coming out in Zagreb, as well as a collection of newspaper columns which will be published there, and then Documents of the Bosnian Franciscans from the 19th Century, which I have been preparing for many years. All these things have been ready for a long time. And now I am writing a new novel and I am working on a collection of short stories... While my selected works are in the process of being published. New selections will contain travel diaries, a novel, poetry...
In your short-story collection The Man Who Went into the Fog one story, Florian, stands out. It is difficult to imagine a sadder plot. Yet, you got under the skin of the character and present him as a man who nevertheless manages to find hope?
Yes, that is one of my favourite stories, because it is about the war and exile, about belonging and not-belonging, about human goodness and evil... All that and considerably more finds a place there, in an ordinary story about a nondescript man. Actually I was not thinking so much about whether the story is sad or not... But you are right... The same as you are right, and it seems more important, that the man showed that he had ground to stand on after all, which was his source of hope. No matter how fragile, but still hope...
Is there something woven into all your stories, a leitmotif, a message that you would like to share with readers? Or do you think that every story, every literary work carries a completely different message?
Each of my stories stands on its own, but all of my stories together, and at the same time, are a larger story about the same thing – about an ordinary man on life’s windswept station. It is not a coincidence that two of my collections of stories are called Stories of Love and Death (Priče o ljubavi i smrti) and New Stories of Life and Death (Nove priče o ljubavi i smrti).
While examining other people’s destinies, the author always and only writes out of his own essence, which is of course understandable. A serious person is bound to know himself first. And if there is anything that he can (and has to) have a profound knowledge of, then it is himself. Even when we research otherness, we really study and try to understand ourselves. It is always and only about self.
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