French critics have been very positive concerning your book, talking about it as an innovative and "avant-garde" ist
text. Do you see yourself as someone ahead of his time ? Ahead concerning what in your writings and ideas of literature ? Which authors have inspired you and helped you the most ? Who (in the ancient and contemporaries authors) do you feel close to ?
French critics have been very generous. I do not see myself as someone ahead of my time. It is in fact physically impossible to be ahead of one's time. I am very suspicious of the concept of the writer as the visionary
(which is that being ahead of one's time means). I do think that a writer should seek to position himself or herself at the confluence of different cultural, political, linguistic forces, at the centre - or at least at an important
point - of the intricate network that History is. Sometimes being in that position is just (bad) luck. On the other hand, if being "ahead of one's time" just means questioning the accepted ideas and the complacency of the dominant
literary modes, I certainly have tried to do that.
Danilo Kis is my literary teacher. It is in reading his book that I learned about the responsibilities of the writer in relation to History. Also the Bosnian writer
Semezdin Mehmedinovic (his book is called Sarajevo blues), who lives in Washington DC, and who is a close friend of mine. He is someone I talk and discuss things with. I am also close to Nathan Englander, who is extremely
talented. He lives in Israel, at the confluence of strong and violent historical forces, and we have often talked about that. As for "ancient writers", I like Nabokov (obviously), Kafka, Bruno Shulz, Isaak Babel, James Joyce,
What was your first idea, your will, when you started writing this book ? Were you surprised with the result ? With its success ?
I write stories, and you always write one story at the time.
Writing is also a way of understanding - that is, I write stories so I can understand what is happening in them. In that sense, I never planned the book. I simply proceeded from a story to a story, trying to understand and find
answers to the questions those stories raised. Ii was not surprised with the result, for I knew what I was doing, but I was surprised with the success. Partly because I did not know how the literary industry worked in the west, and
partly because I am infected for life with Bosnian pessimism - you only expect bad things to happen, and when they don't, you are surprised.
The book is composed with many stories, independents and autonomous, even
sometimes quite heterogeneous. What was the aim of that structure ? Can we associate it to the tearing your country passed and still passes through ? Is that "multiple narration " some kind of a mirror of the cultural
splitting that exists in Yugoslavia ?
The structure has very little to do with the disintegration of Yugoslavia, if nothing else then because it's been a while since I considered Yugoslavia to be my country - I am
Bosnian. The fragmented structure is a legitimate artistic strategy - you can see examples of fragmentation in the bible, in Ulysses, in many books. The fragmented structure came naturally to me because of the feeling I
described above : that writers and their books should be at the confluence of diverse political, historical, cultural forces. If that is true, they should be able to hear different voices and speak in different voices
simultaneously. Furthermore, a stable, unquestionable narrative position implies a single, stable source of knowledge to which a writer somehow has magical access -knowledge is, in other words, completed and the only thing for
the writer to do is to disseminate it. My approach is fundamentally different : knowledge becomes and exists only in the situation of exchange, in which the writer's position is not stable, since it depends on the position of the
reader - the writer and the reader come to a consensus through a negotiation and a makeshift community is created. Thus knowledge is not transcendental, outside of human practice and community, but exists only within that material
practice, and the writes is just one of the people working in that process.
What is the link between the experience of migration and the writing ? Do you feel you are carrying some sorts of a message, as an emigrant ?
Well, to extend the metaphor, the writer migrates between different positions in the network oh history, crossing and ignoring borders. Moreover, I think in today's world, marked by global migrations of labour, by constant
violation and violent reshaping of borders, immigrants, emigrants and refugees are precisely the people who find themselves at the confluence of political, cultural, historical forces, often against their will. In that sense, they
are the ones whose story is one that needs to be told and retold - rather then the increasingly obsolete national myths that constitute national literatures. And there is a number of writers who have been doing it and are doing it
and are going to continue doing it - I am very far from being special in that sense, as I am far from being a representative of all emigrants, or even Bosnian emigrants. I have just been able to voice certain things and raise
certain question, and I hope I can keep doing that.
The translation of the title of your book in French was the object of many debates, and the result has nothing to do with your original title. Did you agree to that
metamorphosis, how do you explain that translation, were you at the origin of it ? Did you want to say something else, to underline some aspects of your story ?
The change in the title was made with my consent, upon a
suggestion from my French publisher. It is not entirely clear to me why that change was necessary, but I trusted my publisher when they told me that it would be better for the book. My preferred title is, has always been, and
always will be the question of Bruno.
Where do you come from Bosnia exactly ? Why did you choose to live in Chicago rather then somewhere else ? Do you plan to go back to the country of your birth ? Or did you fully adopt
the country that adopted you ?
I come from Sarajevo, where I was born and raised and lived until I went to the USA for a short trip. During that trip the war in Bosnia started. I was in Chicago at the time, visiting a
friend, and I just stayed in Chicago. I did not really have much choice, but I am very glad that I found myself in Chicago. I do not plan to go back to live in Bosnia. I visit Sarajevo several times a year and I am in permanent
contact with people there. My sister went back and is there now, though she'll come back to north America soon. I have a lot of friends and family in Bosnia. I also write a bi-weekly column for a Sarajevo magazine called bh dani
. Chicago is now my adopted hometown, although I am an American citizen now, I did not fully adopt the USA, in as much as I will never think that some things are good simply because they are American. American society is a
complicated organism with a few good things, a few bad things, and a few very bad things. The Puritanism and selfishness of the American mainstream culture is troubling to me. Neither can I accept the pathological, reactionary
conservatives of the American right, particularly Christian right. The Bush administration is practically a dictatorship of extreme right wing republicans. American nationalism is as repugnant to me as any other nationalism and
George W. Bush will never be my president. And he is embarrassingly stupid too. On the other hand, America is a complicated, intellectually rich country, with the culture that produced jazz and some of the greatest films ever made.
It is the culture that was produced by Miles Davis, Saul Below, Howard Hawks and Spike Lee and so on, and that allowed many immigrants to find a way to flourish. America is an incredibly vibrant place, and it is also a very
important place - this is where many an important struggle of today's world takes place.
What are your plans today, concerning your writing work ? Others projects than the one that are bonded to literature ?
Well, I am half way through my next book. As for other things, I play a lot of football (soccer) and have a vague ambition to get involved with film. But I write stories, that is what I do, and everything else is less important
Propos recueillis par Florian Zeller