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Out of the Limelight, Interview with Elena Alexieva by Silviya Choleva

Posted By admin On May 9, 2010 @ 11:34 pm In Interviews | No Comments

Vanity is an unnecessary luxury for a writer in Bulgaria, says award-winning novelist Elena Alexieva

In spite of winning the 2006 Helicon Award for modern prose, Elena Alexieva is honest enough to admit that her dog is her biggest fan. “It doesn’t need to read my books to love me,” she says. The award for her short story collection, Reading Group 31, briefly placed her in the limelight. But Elena quickly and gladly withdrew from it because, according to her, the Bulgarian spotlight is too small. “It shines like a table lamp and is not worth the effort,” she says. Instead, her job as a simultaneous interpreter continues to keep her busy, travelling throughout Bulgaria. She also teaches at the New Bulgarian University when she’s in Sofia.

Elena has a degree in international economic relations from the University of National and World Economy and a PhD in semiotics from the New Bulgarian University, considerable achievements for someone so young. She is always extremely busy but somehow still finds time to write, having already published a novel, two books of poetry and two collections of short stories. The last collection, Who?, deals with the Bible’s lesser known characters.

What should writers be like today?

More ordinary than ever before. After all, their job is to write, not to show off.

The Helicon Award brought you many new readers. How does publicity work for a writer?

Publicity works well for writers, it makes it possible for their work to reach a wider audience. But commercial success in Bulgaria is so small that it can be discounted. If your goals are any other than creating literature and writing for the reader, you’d better give up.

Your texts are “convertible”, not nationally distinctive. Is this the future of literature?

For me, “convertible” literature is good literature. National distinctiveness does not necessarily imply quality. The exotic can sometimes boost sales, but that’s all.

The malady of Bulgarian literature is…

…that it wants to receive more than it gives.

There is irony in your writing and it sometimes increases to coldblooded cruelty. Where is the borderline? Do you find it amusing?

I find it both amusing and sad. But it’s just another way to have fun. Cruelty is one of life’s inevitabilities. This makes it commonplace and inconspicuous. But to reach it, to cast fresh light on it, you have to go through the funny and the ironic. They are two sides of the same coin.

Critics usually say that discontent is at the heart of any writing or any kind of art. What do you think of this?

Happiness and contentment are the main enemy of art. I can’t think of a contented person who’s done anything significant.

In your latest book Who? you are dealing with biblical stories. But religion isn’t in fashion now, is it?

I am not an advocate of religion or the Bible. What I’ve done is much more trivial: I’ve asked questions about man and his relations with the world. They have been the same since time immemorial. My “biblical” stories are both biblical and modern.

Do you find teaching frustrating?

No. I get on well with the students; I give them lots of freedom. I try to make them think, though not always successfully.

How do you relax? Haven’t you been tempted to quit your job as a simultaneous interpreter and translate books at home?

When I’m stressed out I listen to Rammstein or take my dog for a walk and look at passers-by. I like simultaneous interpreting; I find it interesting. I’d like to translate books too, but for the time being it’s a luxury I can’t afford.


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