The Slovenian Writer Who Travels the World With His Words
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this writer travels the globe in new ways.
By Sanjena Sathian
Evald Flisar has, in his own words, been “a bad boy.” And a prolific one, in all things: Yes, there were three wives, but also 96 countries visited and 35 books translated into 143 languages. Flisar has written in two — English and Slovene — though he’s settled into the latter, despite his estimate that only 1 million or so people read Slovene well enough to work through his deeply philosophical, intellectually complex work.
The 72-year-old playwright, author and global citizen of Austrian and Hungarian heritage — he calls himself “the last of the Hapsburgs” — is the face of the literary scene in this country of some 2 million: He is the editor-in-chief of a long-running literary magazine, has been nominated for several top European fiction awards and has racked up national accolades for three plays. I sat down with Flisar one night at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, and our conversation began with roses and diarrhea — he presented me with a bouquet of the former, and informed me that a masala omelet had given him the latter that morning. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Evald Flisar: So far — I have no intention of stopping. And I now have a son of 8. And whereas I, who was born after World War II, when there was widespread poverty in Europe, saw the sea, my own Slovenian sea, only at the age of 12, my boy has already been to 18 countries, as far apart as America, Australia, Indonesia, Burma.… How things have changed!
For someone who’s been to so many places, what does “home” mean?
Flisar: Well, home is where somebody that’s dear to you is waiting patiently, forgiving you when you come home drunk and telling you not to do it again, and setting you on a straight path successfully. That is home for me. I’ve had many homes in my life. I’ve been married three times, I’ve been a bad boy and would continue to be one, but unfortunately, years have caught up with me. I carry home with me inside my — this much misused word — soul. I believe there is such a thing.
You have seen so much. Why are you concerned with reality when yours must be so rich?
Flisar: [A Journey Too Far] is a book about the thin line between imagination and reality and how easy it is to slip from one to the other … and not knowing in which you are. In this book, the narrator imagines people, who then suddenly come alive and he interacts with them. I often feel that what we experience as reality is what we imagine, because our experiences are so different. Everybody has his or her own.
Your work is very interested in God — tell me about that.
Flisar: God is very much part of our culture, Western, Eastern, Indian, Buddhist, whatever. We can’t do without God. Even if we don’t believe in God, it is in God we don’t believe, so God is present one way or another.
The Indians have a wonderful story about how the world came into being. First, there was only God and no world. And God became very lonely and desperate and said, “Well, here I am, I’m so sad, I have no one to talk to — it’s only me, the one!” And then he got angry and he exploded, and then he smiled and said, “I am no longer one. I am many.”
Who did you read when you were younger?
Flisar: You may not have heard of the German writer Karl May, who wrote very interesting novels about American Indians. It was a series of books for children — boys, basically — and May never visited America. He wrote all these books in prison, but they were so wonderful. When I go through those books now, I find them somehow lacking, but as a child I devoured them.
Did they make you want to adventure?
Flisar: No, no. I was born in a little village, in a house on a hill. One room — I said, “This room is going to be mine,” because through the window I could see the Austrian valley below and a big Slovenian mountain after that, and on a good day, when the weather was fine, I could see across half of Slovenia. As a little child I kept wondering, “What is behind those mountains?” I was fascinated by the unknown.
But I was also very afraid of the world; I was a very shy little boy. And then I realized that the only way to break out of it is to take the bull by the horns — I went and risked everything, and then it became a habit.