purchase propecia ambienbuy.net buysoma

Nathacha Appanah

Nathacha Appanah is a Mauritian-French author of several novels. At present, four of these have been translated into English from the original French: Waiting for Tomorrow, The Last Brother, and Tropic of Violence (forthcoming) were translated by Geoffrey Strachan, while Alex Stanton translated Blue Bay Palace. Her debut novel Les rochers de Poudre d’Or received the Prix RFO du livre in 2003.

This interview was conducted by Elizabeth Sulis Kim in English between June 4 and 20, 2018.

 

NOR

Where is home now?

NATHACHA APPANAH

Home is a mix of identified and non-identified things. A sense of place for sure: France, a working desk, my notebooks, the café crème en terrasse; the way everything has to be more complicated that it should be for it to be French. A language and the numerous ways to engage with it. My family.

NOR

Did you always want to be a writer?

APPANAH

I think I have always wanted to write. But I would never ever have dreamed of being a writer. It seemed too far, too unrealistic.

NOR

What made it seem like a more attainable goal?

APPANAH

Living in France made it “real.” I would spend so much time in bookshops. I would attend writers’ conference and sometimes meet writers. It felt less and less extraordinary to spend hours writing, to have this dream.

NOR

Before coming to France you worked as a journalist and wrote poetry for a couple of Mauritius-based papers. How did you come to start writing fiction?

APPANAH

Oh, I started writing fiction first—at 13, 14. And then as a good camouflage job, I chose journalism because I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to say things that belonged to me, to my family, but also to live a thousand lives. And I thought that it would make me write every day.

NOR

Did it make you want to write every day?

APPANAH

I wrote everyday, for work. Fiction would come and go.

NOR

Who were your models? Were you influenced by any Mauritian or French authors? 

APPANAH

Camus. First and always.

NOR

Why?

APPANAH

He has a beautiful language, very evocative, so poetic. Even though he spoke about things that were so far from me and from my reality, I was still totally enthralled.

NOR

What languages did you grow up speaking?

APPANAH

I spoke Creole first. Then, French, English, and two Indian languages with my grandparents. My grandparents would speak a little Hindi and Telegu. I understand Hindi but can’t speak it anymore. I’ve forgotten all my Telegu, and it’s a shame.

NOR

Are there any nuances from the French-based Mauritian Creole, Hindi, or Telegu that affect your spoken and written French?

APPANAH

I don’t think so. I know that my first novel was very traditional in its narrative and its language. I remember one journalist asking me why my French was so classical. Maybe I wanted it to be that way. I feel that I am less classical now—not in my use of the French language per se, but in the way I engage in it. I try to bend it, to work it, to stretch it, but I also pay a lot of attention to the music of it.

NOR

How did you respond to that journalist?

APPANAH

I actually did not understand the question. I could not comprehend why people would expect my French to be “broken,” to be “laced” with creole—there is something clichéd about wanting writers to write as you expect them to write, as you see them (their color, their background, their origin). I took some time to understand all that and to try to break free of all these boxes we are thrown into.

NOR

What prompted you to move to France in 1998?

APPANAH

Oh, nothing very unusual. Studies—I studied journalism.

NOR

Living in France, do you ever encounter the clichés of island culture mentioned in Waiting for Tomorrow?

APPANAH

Of course. It’s endless. Language for example. People complimenting me on my use of the French language. When I am asked, on a regular basis in winter, if I miss the tropical weather. When I get lectured sometimes for not speaking English or Creole to my daughter. “You would raise a polyglot.” I speak the language of my heart, which is French. When sometimes people expect that I have no knowledge of the subtlety of French gastronomy: cheese, wine. When sometimes I become invisible or too visible. When people confuse me with another islander-writer. When people ask me why I wear a hat—“You are used to the sun aren’t you? You don’t tan do you.” When people take for granted that I don’t eat meat for religious reasons.

NOR

Does that ever make you feel like your cultural identity has been reduced to a commodity—like Anita and Adèle’s?

APPANAH

Sometimes yes. But most of the time, it is really the ignorance of others and the way people will say things to you that they won’t say to someone else. Mauritius is assumed to be this exotic island where you swim, tan on the beach, drink cocktails, have a day amongst the locals—a colorful market, smiling children, these sorts of clichés. For example, I have been asked if there are bookstores in Mauritius. When I say yes, I get a: “Really?” I guess it’s Mauritius’ fault too, if I may say. It’s an island that “advertises” itself on brochures as such and tourism is a strong economic sector in Mauritius. Still, when I meet a Finnish author, I don’t ask him/her about saunas.

NOR

From your work that has been translated into English, I sense that you’re reacting against this—that you want your stories to instead have a universal appeal.

APPANAH

I would want to be cautious around this “universal” aspect. I get the feeling that this question—which I have been often asked—would not have been relevant to me if I were, say, a white Parisian woman. But then, would I be writing Adèle’s and Anita’s story this way? I would still write about inspiration, motherhood, the long shallow hours when you try to work/create and can’t. I don’t want my books to be universal. I want them to be particular. I tell stories that can appeal, emotionally, politically, to anyone, I hope. But I also want my readers to feel empathy for my characters, to feel and share their story because of the uniqueness of their voice. Not because the voice is familiar. I guess when I read, when I write, I want to learn, I want to engage in a language, in a story—to be challenged.

NOR

What did you do when you arrived in France?

APPANAH

I lived in Grenoble—picture gorgeous snow-covered range of mountains—and worked as a journalist. I moved to Lyon and then to Paris. I remember being in awe and feeling very vulnerable every day in Grenoble. I wanted to take in everything and also wanted to not be too obvious, to do my work as seriously as possible. I worked at the Dauphiné Libéré and was a “correspondant” like Anita in the novel. When I moved to Lyon—beautiful city, gorgeous light—I started as a freelancer and worked for GEO, for radios and Air France magazine. I have traveled a bit for my articles. For example, I did a long feature about how Sri Lankans recovered a year after the tsunami, and another about how ancient Indian traditions are preserved in the Caribbean.

NOR

You’ve been living in France for a couple of decades now. What do you remember of growing up in Mauritius?

APPANAH

It’s very vivid to me. I lived with my grandparents and parents for the first six years of my life and had a wonderful childhood. Then, we moved to a town and my parents turned into tiger parents and my childhood was over. Kidding…just a little bit. I lived in a big, weird house in a village. The floor was red. I remember having a mango tree and I would just pick those fruits from the window of my parents’ room. My grandmother was very loving and gave me the feeling that I was beautiful and unique. My father used to travel a lot so we moved so that we would be closer to his work. He works as an agricultural engineer and my mother is a teacher. I have a brother who works in finance.

NOR

What changes have you witnessed in the country?

APPANAH

I returned last year and I feel the country is changing—the middle class is slowing disappearing and the poverty gap is getting bigger and bigger. When I go there, I feel like a stranger and it is sad.

NOR

Are you as nostalgic as your characters?

APPANAH

I am not nostalgic for places. I am sometimes nostalgic for the way I was. The work I could do when I was this way, the energy and innocence I had, the way I could have an idea and work through it. Now, I am just getting more and more complicated.

NOR

Complicated in what way?

APPANAH

I get the feeling that I work at a slower pace. That I need so much more to be in the right mood to write and I often find my writing not good enough.

NOR

Where do you write?

APPANAH

At home. I have a small office which is very cluttered right now because we are moving soon. I dream of a pretty, Pinterest-ready office but can’t seem to find time (or inspiration) to get things done. So now, I am writing at the kitchen table.

NOR

What are you currently working on, if you can say?

APPANAH

I am sorry, I can’t say. Not because I am superstitious, but because I have so many projects that seem to go well and then one day, it just flattens like a cheese soufflé that you have undercooked (see, I have French gastronomical references).

NOR

What did winning the Prix RFO du livre change for you?

APPANAH

That was a very good day. It was my first big literary prize for my first novel. I was at a conference in Guadeloupe  when it was announced in Paris. I felt so happy but a bit lonely because I was not at the ceremony. I remember being in my room and thinking, who should I call to share the news with? So, I kept on with my day and I feel that it has been a lesson: literary prizes are wonderful but they don’t really change the way you work or you wish to be working. They don’t give you more inspiration, more creativity or more luck for the future. But I won’t ever forget that prix RFO came with a small check and it paid my bills for a couple of months. 

NOR

Where do your ideas come from?

APPANAH

I guess they come from my own interrogations. Why are things this way? What it would be like to get on this journey? For Waiting for Tomorrow, I really wanted to explore writing, creativity, and daily life getting in the way of things, and how far you might go for your art.

NOR

For works based on historical events such as The Last Brother, how much preliminary research do you do before you start writing?

APPANAH

I did quite a bit—mainly reading about WWII: novels, essays, historical books. There were, at the time when I was working on the book, very few resources about the imprisoned Jews in Mauritius.

NOR

What compels you to write stories related to Nazism like The Last Brother?

APPANAH

For The Last Brother, I was very moved by the cemetery in Mauritius which I discovered in my twenties—I had always thought that I has been born and raised in a country that had nothing to do with Nazism. It was a shock to me that more than 1500 Jews had been imprisoned in Mauritius for four and a half years and that there was not a word on it.

NOR

For a typical story, how many drafts do you write?

APPANAH

It depends where I am in a story. For example, I am just starting to write after months of research. It is just awful. I have so many drafts it sometimes makes me laugh. I do know, though, that I am looking, by working on these endless drafts, for the uniqueness of the character’s voice and once I find it, it will be easier. And the dozens of drafts are worth it.

NOR

How do you know when you’ve found that unique voice?

APPANAH

I have to say that is something to do with the music of it. I have the instinct that it is good.

NOR

How do you know you’ve completed the final draft?

APPANAH

When I have nothing more to say.

NOR

Waiting for Tomorrow feels very personal—are you Anita and/or Adèle?

APPANAH

I am Anita mostly—or the way she always feel torn between work and family life. And I had a dry patch in my writing for seven years, so I did a lot of thinking (and lamenting) asking myself “Where did all the stories in my head go?”

NOR

Can you elaborate on this? Do you think we find stories or create them?

APPANAH

I don’t really know actually. I think it is a mix of imagination, of observation, of obsessions, of interrogations.

NOR

Are you, like Anita, torn between the countryside and the city?

APPANAH

No, I am a city girl but I love nature.

NOR

To what extent have you experienced the otherness that your characters Anita and Adam experienced in Paris?

APPANAH

You always feel it. I still feel it. Sometimes it’s just because I have been writing for several hours and then remember I have to buy bread—the outside world feels so alien to me. Sometimes it’s the way I am invisible or too visible.

NOR

How do you separate your characters from yourself? 

APPANAH

They sometimes take from me—a flaw, a way of thinking—but I like to see them in full light.

NOR

There’s a magical quality to your work—from the frequent allusions to nature when revisiting memories, to the way it seems everything your characters face is inevitable. Is this how you see the world?

APPANAH

Not really. I ask myself every day, though, when passing by a homeless person or talking to a refugee, why them? Why me?

NOR

In your opinion, is it possible to write a good story/strong character without some autobiographical element?

APPANAH

I guess you always take something that belongs to you, that you have experienced, that you wish to know.

NOR

When you read your work in translation, do you still feel you are reading your own work?

APPANAH

Yes! Otherwise, it would be a bad translation.

NOR

When can we expect the next English translation of your work and/or a new work?

APPANAH

I have another novel (published here in 2016) that has been translated. It is called Tropic of Violence. It will be out in the UK in October and in the US with Graywolf Press sometime after that.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Sulis Kim was born in Bath, England. She holds an MA (Hons) in Modern Languages from the University of Edinburgh and currently works as a freelance journalist. She has written for publications in the United Kingdom, South Korea, and the United States including The Guardian, Positive News, The Pool, HUCK, and The Millions. She currently lives between London and Buenos Aires.

 

0