By Mishal Manzoor - Bernardo Carvalho is a Brazilian novelist, journalist and playwright, born in Rio de Janeiro in 1960. He has been the correspondent of “Folha de S. Paulo” (one of Brazil’s major daily newspapers) in Paris and New York and the editor of the paper’s literary supplement “Folhetim”. His books are translated into more than ten languages and published in many countries. In addition to Aberração, a collection of short stories published in 1993, he has written ten novels, most recently Reprodução (Reproduction, 2013), published in Brazil by Companhia das Letras, as all his previous titles. Two of them were translated into English and published in the UK: the novella Fear of de Sade, by Canongate, and Nine Nights, by Heinemann. The latter was awarded the prizes Portugal Telecom and Machado de Assis. Mongolia (2003) was awarded the prizes Jabuti and Associação Paulista de Críticos de Arte (APCA). He has contributed with his fiction to a variety of publications and anthologies in Brazil and abroad. His 2006 play BR-3, written for the experimental Teatro da Vertigem, was staged on the Tietê River, in São Paulo, and on boats in the bay of Rio. Another play (Dire ce qu'on ne pense pas dans des langues qu'on ne parle pas) will have its world première at the Théâtre National, in Brussels, in May 2014, before travelling to Romania and Avignon, in France.
Bernardo Carvalho was invited by the Brazilian Embassy to deliver a lecture at Kuch Khaas, in Islamabad, and participate in the Karachi Literature Festival. He is the first Brazilian writer to take part in the Festival and the only Latin American representative in the event. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus Mr Carvalho shared his views and opinions. Here are the excerpts.
- How does it feel to be a part of Karachi Literature Festival?
I like the idea of meeting people and discussing literature with people whose work I have not read. I like this kind of exchange. Very good surprises may come out of it. I’m looking forward to our meeting.
- What was your perception about Pakistan and how do you feel to be here?
I’m still on my way. Actually, I’m on the plane from Dubai right now. I was invited to come to Pakistan by the Brazilian Embassy in Islamabad. I was already very excited with the invitation -- for Brazilians, it is a very exotic place, as Brazil must be for Pakistanis, too. But it feels even more surprising and unexpected to realize, while watching the news the same morning of my departure, that I’ll be in Islamabad at the same time the government has convened peace talks with the Taliban. It gives you this sense of going to a very hot spot.
- In your opinion, how is fiction writing changing with time?
It is true that it has become very diverse. But, on the other hand, this plurality has been followed by a conservative trend. It seems to be contradictory, but I think it is not. I do not like to generalize -- there will always be exceptions to what you may say -- but I feel that, in general, the reception of literature has become more conservative. It is probably due to the fact that it has also become a mass-market product.
- Who has been your inspiration as a writer?
It is amazing how I’m still inspired by the new books I read. There was a time when I thought it would be over with age, but it has proven to be a never-ending process. I was reading Sjón’s, the Icelandic writer, “The Blue Fox” on my way here. It is a slender novel, and it felt like I was rediscovering literature.
- How would you define your quintessential writing style?
I don’t know whether I have a quintessential style. When I began writing, one of my main enemies was style. I wanted to escape it, as if it were possible. In my mind, the very idea of style was a trap. I’m not sure I still think that way. But I’ve written a few books trying to avoid a beautiful literary and poetic prose. Sometimes, what I write may sound very direct and unadorned, even bland. It is a paradox, but this apparent lack of style may end up being considered my style.
- Who are your target audience and what message do you try to give in your writings?
I can’t write with an audience in mind. I’m not that kind of author. And I would have given up writing immediately if I had a message. I write because I’m looking for answers, not because I have them.
- How is contemporary literature different from the past?
I think the presence of the market is now more conspicuous than it was in the last century. To me, this is still a bit disturbing. I have had a hard time trying to understand it and to deal with it.
- Do you think Pakistan is resonating well with its cultural trends?
I have to confess that I’m very ignorant about Pakistani culture. I’ve read recently that there is a boom in the local movie industry and I’m very curious to see the films.
- What's your favorite character archetype of literature?
I don’t have a favorite one, but I’m entering mid-life with all the usual doubts and critical questionings it brings. I’ve been reading Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano” recently, and I can’t take the Consul out of my mind.
- When you hear from your readers, what do they say?
I hardly ever hear from them. But I’m not too open either.
- You have written many novels, which one has been the most memorable piece of your writing?
The one that has had a broader public resonance is called “Nine Nights” – and it happens to be the only one available in English.
- A lot of new writers are coming up on literary scene, what would you advise them?
To follow their true original calling, even if it means that they would have to go against the flow and against what one now expects from a writer.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 23-Feb-2014