For the first time in Bistrița , Sagy Zwirn has accepted to give Pov21 magazine an exclusive interview . If you haven`t heard yet, Sagy is an Israeli writer, a certified lawyer and a former prosecutor.
His short stories and articles have appeared in various publications such as the Quarterly Review and the Evergreen Review. He translated two novels into Hebrew for a large Israeli publisher and his short story ‘Carthage’ has been accepted for publication in the Yale Review.
His first novel is a thriller set in LA called THE GLASS SHADOW.
What does Sagy Zwirn think about Romania? What surprises are we going to find out? Let`s check it out!
Hello Sagy! And welcome to Romania! How do you find our country?
Hey! I come here a couple of times a year and I think it`s lovely and beautiful!
I guess we share the same opinion! Maybe you could describe your country, Israel .
Well … it`s very different! First of all it`s very hot, a thing which makes people nervous and more agitated. Even so, it`s a nice place to live because you become thankful of what you have, you get to appreciate it.
And is it an inspiration?
Yes, the place where you live obviously has a great deal of influence on your work and growing up there, I`m sure influences my work a lot! As, for example, Joyce (n.n) grew up in Dublin, everything he wrote happened in Dublin … where you grow up is part of your work! And some of my work does take place in Israel. For example my first novel takes place in the West Bank (n.n.), and its military context generates fear among people there.
So, are your books based on political themes?
Well, it`s not political fiction, because political fiction tends to be poor fiction. If you do have a message which you`re trying to convey, it is better to write a pamphlet. Fiction should be about the story, about the characters, about, perhaps, some specific things, but not about trying to pass an agenda.
But, needless to say, living in Israel is a political existence, you can`t detach yourself from the context.
But don`t you feel the need to disconnect sometimes?
I suppose there is an inner struggle because I write in English, some of my books do not take place in Israel … sometimes yes, you want to escape into a more cosmopolitan point of view of the world, you wanna think about yourself as a citizen of the world; it is to some extent easier to interpret the world away from all these struggles, strives, wars and so on.
How many books have you written so far?
I`ve written about 4-5 , very different in genre. Some of them are literary fiction, others are more commercial, I`ve also written detective stories. For instance one of them is about a schizophrenic detective, a psychological thriller. There is a various kind of books, and every book is actually an escape from other books. I really try to make every book a world of its own. Obviously there are certain similarities, with the same person writing them, but there are the varied inspirations that make the difference.
In order to write books you have to see the complexity of the world around you. That is definitely not an easy task.
Some writers started late, for example Dostoyevsky wrote his first major work in his fourties. But writing is not something you do in a day, it`s a process. Usually, the first works are not very good, not mature. You have to write more and more until you become better and better. Nobody`s first piece of work was astonishing.
Do you have a favorite book of yours?
It`s difficult to say! The commercial ones are more escapist, sometimes you need it to get over the literary and novels take a lot out of you emotionally; so it`s more of a relaxation to write something that`s easier. Graham Green used to write 2 kinds :one was literary fiction and the other one he called it `entertainment`. So it`s very different from the writing point of view.
Right now I`m writing a new novel about happiness, I think this is one of my favorite works. One of the greatest goals in people`s life is to get happiness. They know it, they feel it, but they don`t necessarily know what it means to be happy and how to attain this goal. Before this century happiness was not the main purpose, but now it is a major thing in people`s life. The thing is they struggle to get it without really knowing what it is and how to go about getting it.
Is this struggle worth it? Shouldn`t happiness come spontaneous?
I don`t think it`s the human solution! It`s a nice idea, but suffering is part of the world and looking for happiness is another part of the world. The complexity is part of what it means to be human, not getting things too easily. The angels get it easily, people have to work for it!
What can you tell about you as a person, not as a writer?
In many ways I think there`s a convergence here. Most jobs are simply careers, but being a writer is how you define yourself. Then there are human connections, family , the place you live in, friends, relatives, relationships, all that is important, but I think writers tend to interpret the world through that medium of creation .
What made you write? When did you see that spark?
I started out as a lawyer, but I`ve been writing in different ways since i was just a few years old. Of course, I began with very basic things and then as I grew up the work grew up with me. It`s a lot of work; there`s this myth of the writer with works that come out of nowhere, you don`t read anything, you don`t work , you just sit and the masterpiece comes.
I do think that 99.9% of writers work very hard, write and rewrite and that`s part of life , part of experience; by reading and writing constantly you learn how to better amplify your themes, write good dialogues and more believable characters.
Are you original or do you deliver to readers what they want?
This is actually a very good question. In my case I think I try to do both. There was this editor who said “If you write something that`s very important to you, people will want to read it even though they didn`t know it until you`ve just written it”. But there`s a convergence again, if you put a lot of yourself into the writing, if you do what you`re passionate about, not everybody will like it ,you have to get used to rejection, to criticism. Then, if you look at some of the best works in literature , some of them were roughly criticized and even those that are now masterpieces , for example `The Great Gatsby` by Fitzgerald, most people liked it when it came out but some critics still hated it.
As far as I know, your thesis was about Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment”. Did he influence you?
Definitely yes! Dostoyevsky is a big influence and there are a few others like Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, but yes, Dostoyevsky is certainly the best to me. He wrote great psychological fiction, perhaps the best I`ve ever read. I think every writer has a list with people that molded them, that started their career. Fiction doesn`t come out of vacuum!
Where and how do you find your inspiration to write ?
Well, … ( to be continued )
*n.n 1 The West Bank is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, the bulk of it now under Israeli control, or else under joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority control.
*n.n 2 James Joyce was an Irish novelist, short story writer, and poet, being
considered one of the most important of 20th century.
You can find Sagy Zwirn through his agent here.