Samanta Schweblin and her translator Megan McDowell are shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize for Fever Dream.
Words Without Borders (WWB): Tell us about how you became a writer. Was it a vocation, an accident? How has your relationship to writing changed over time? Have your goals and objectives changed throughout the years?
Samanta Schweblin: I remember at five years old, before I even knew how to write, telling stories to my mom at bedtime, asking her to take notes and to leave blank pages in between so I could add pictures later. So I think I have always had this impulse to tell stories. When I was around seventeen years old, I went to some literary workshops for the first time and I think that was the next step: to realize how much working on the text—trying over and over again to be more precise, simpler, clearer—was also part of the writing process. I discovered how powerful I could become with these tools and I started to write more seriously. I finished my cinematography degree but still kept writing as my main goal and published my first two books. Moving from Buenos Aires to Berlin was another big step for my writing. It brought me a new and deep kind of solitude, and gave me more time to write and more freedom in many ways.
WWB: How do you see your writing within the larger context of your country’s/language’s literary tradition? What influences/writers/groups of writers there do you draw on, or what literary currents does your work disavow?
Samanta Schweblin: I have taken something from all of them. I don’t feel in conflict with any tradition or group. But of course I chose my own masters, and they are: Adolfo Bioy Casares, Antonio di Benedetto, Silvina Ocampo, and Felisberto Hernández. I felt completely attracted to this “rioplatense” literature, and those writers have a very particular way of thinking about the fantastic: not as the fear of horrifying monsters that lived a thousand years ago, a thousand kilometers away, but as the small things, feelings and presentiments that create suspicion in our reality that maybe we are missing something, that maybe the world could be bigger and more different than we thought.
I always say that I fell in love with literature reading the Latin-American writers, like Juan Rulfo, or Julio Cortázar, or Maria Luisa Bombal. But then there were the British and American writers from whom I learned to write. The former made me try to dismantle their stories to discover how they work. The latter showed me how important each word can be, the tension between the sentences, all that you can build in the reader’s mind. So when I write I am always thinking about these two different traditions as part of my background.
WWB: What’s your favorite book from a literary tradition other than your own and how has it influenced your writing?
Samanta Schweblin: Klaus and Lukas, by Agota Kristoff, was one of the last books that shocked me in a strong way. She was a Hungarian writer from 1935 who lived in Switzerland most of her life and wrote in French, but reading her books is like reading something incredibly contemporary—like all the great books, of course. Klaus and Lukas appears to be a classical and simple book, but it hides within it an absolutely new and powerful way to tell a story—the way Kristoff builds one plot from three different kinds of “truths,” the enormous but also concrete absences and sorrow growing invisibly between her sentences. It is absolutely worth reading.