Nino Kharatishvili’s Literary Absence of Control

Nino Kharatishvili’s ‘My Gentle Twin’ was awarded by the independent German publishing sector in 2011. ‘Juja,’ the debut romance of the novelist, was also highly praised and her most recent 1200-page novel ‘The Eighth Life (for Brilka)’ has brought much success to the Germany-based Georgian author. Nino writes in German, her novels are also translated into Georgian and both German and Georgian readers are equally interested in her works. The Georgian writer tries to visit Georgia at least once a year and at present she is here with her husband and six-month old daughter. 

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE GERMANY? 

I had been studying German since childhood, surrounded by Germanophiles, and I went to a school founded by such people. Later, quite by chance, my mother went to work in Germany and took me there for two years. I finished the seventh and eighth grades in a German school and refined my language. Then I came back to Tbilisi, graduated school and at 20 went again to Germany, graduating drama directing at the Hamburg Theater Academy. I planned to return home after four years, but everything happened in a different way. Mom is there even today, but we live in different cities. 

ARE YOU MORE GERMAN OR GEORGIAN TODAY? 

I don’t know really, and I’ve been trying to figure it out myself for several years now. I think I’m a blend; when I’m here, I feel German, but while in Germany, I feel like a true Georgian. It is a kind of mix and I think it happens to everyone in emigration. 

DO YOU COME HERE OFTEN? 

Yes, I try to get here at least once a year, sometimes even twice. In future, I wish to spend more time here. 

DO YOU FEEL NOSTALGIC? 

I miss people, first of all my friends and family, and some places. Now, thanks to internet and social networks, communication is much easier, so I try to keep posted what’s happening not only in private but in social life as well. I remember how difficult it was to get in touch and it was a real ceremony to call home once a week. 

DID YOU ALWAYS KNOW WHAT YOU WOULD DO? 

Actually, I was lucky enough as I always knew about my burning desire to write, though, of course, I knew the problem in sustaining oneself with a career in writing. Yet I still somehow followed my fate. My mother was very skeptical about my decision, as she wanted me to be independent and able to sustain myself; she brought me up in this spirit. Today, she is very happy and proud of me. 

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING? 

I’ve been writing from 13-14 years, but my first steps were undoubtedly amateurish and childish. We had a theatrical cast in school and I created plays for the cast in Georgian and German, after which we staged them in our grandmothers’ clothes and with props brought from home. It was a very significant period that helped me to approach and find my vocation. 

DO YOU REMEMBER THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED WRITING WAS YOUR MAIN ACTIVITY? 

I’ve always been writing- it was an essential part of my life and I never asked myself why. It was so natural, just like having brown eyes. First of all, it was my need, but without a guarantee that my books would be published and others would also read and enjoy them. 

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLICATION? 

I staged a student play called ‘Reckless,’ then we were invited to different festivals and a drama publication became interested in me. It was very motivating to know that others also appreciated my writing and I wasn’t only doing it for myself to keep in a drawer. But I have overcome many difficulties and knocked at doors of the publishing-houses for three years in order to force them to read my ‘Juja’. 

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL WORK APART FROM WRITING? 

I worked even as a student. Many German authors have to find other sources apart from writing, so I’m really very thankful to have the luxury of doing what I love – writing. 

DOES THE NUMBER OF SOLD BOOKS MAKE AN INCOME? 

Writing a novel is a very non-democratic business because no one is paying when you are in the process and if you’re a beginner, you won’t be able to get an advance. Now I can do so. To tell the truth, writers are well-supported in Germany and there are scholarships, special spaces for writing, where people are paid when they write. I also work on order, write plays for theaters and I also take a percentage when these plays are staged. But my main income comes from writing and from staging one or two plays annually. 

IS WRITING A ROUTINE JOB FOR YOU? DO YOU NEED A GREAT DEAL OF SELF-ORGANIZATION? 

Some kind of routine is always necessary. For example, I have to take a break now because of my baby; but as soon as I start writing, I become very active. You need a sort of structure and routine to move forward. 

DO YOU NEED SPECIFIC CONDITIONS FOR WRITING? 

I like working in the evening and at night, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it now because of my baby, who will turn 6 months soon. Sometimes, I’ve written all night through. It’s calm, the phone isn’t ringing and you can concentrate. I spent four years on my recent novel and the last two years I was working every day. In a library archive in the daytime and writing in the evening. I need quiet and nothing else; when I start writing, I might kill someone just for asking where the salt is! It’s really complicated to create a specific environment; you need concentration and you should switch off many factors to work properly. 

WHAT ABOUT DEADLINES WHILE WORKING ON A NOVEL? 

Some authors need deadlines and a strict discipline. Sometimes special agencies are involved in the process and work as a kind of mediator between publishing house and author. Of course, everyone is interested to know when the next novel will be out. But, in my case, I warn people around me that pressure always has a negative effect and blocks me. When I know I have a deadline, it’s really impossible for me to work.

DO YOU EVER GET LAZY WHILE WORKING? 

Yes, of course. Sometimes, a friend calls drawing my attention to a different theme, but still, years helped me to work out a kind of mechanism of concentration in myself. Everyone has their own structure: some need discipline, others not. Some work in the morning, others at night; some authors need isolation, others – on the contrary. It’s not enough to wait for the muses to arrive and it’s important to have self-discipline. 

DO YOU WAIT FOR THE MUSES IN GENERAL? 

I wait for an idea and this idea should then ripen. Sometime I get an idea, but I don’t know yet what it is about and it needs to be developed and there should be a skeleton before starting to write. Also, it’s a kind of inspiration for me to read a good book that motivates me to write. 

DO YOU ASK OTHERS FOR ADVICE? 

No, I can never make the process of writing visible. It is such an intimate and gentle process that it would be really strange to ask someone to share his thoughts or opinions. I even can’t talk about it with my loved ones, as I am also in a process of searching and side opinions can only confuse me. 

DO YOU MAKE NOTES BEFOREHAND? 

My last work was a 1200-page novel and I had only one tiny notebook with some material. When I start writing, I follow my intuition. Sometimes you have an idea, but you are not completely sure about it and when you start writing, this idea transforms into the story. It’s difficult to control these processes and it’s more subconsciousness, or something that is difficult to give a concrete name; it’s a very creative process, but talent and muse won’t help you without routine and discipline. 

SO CAN TALENT ALONE TAKE YOU TO THE FINAL POINT OR WORKING ON YOURSELF? 

Unfortunately, if it were so, Georgia, with its great potential, would be flourishing. In general, it’s very tragic for me to see a person who has not realized his abilities. There are many such people everywhere. Talent needs support; working on yourself and being in the right place at the right time. The environment in Germany is very supportive and prevents one from weakening before the competition. 

ARE OLD GENERATION AUTHORS LENIENT TO YOUNG WRITERS IN GERMANY? 

It’s very individual and I think when you reach a solid age and status, you should not humiliate others, but such authors exist everywhere and Germany is no exception. And there are such writers who are friendly and give valuable advice. 

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE STEREOTYPIC IDEA THAT AN ARTIST SHOULD BE ODD? 

I’m not an eccentric person and I have often heard, “wow how ordinary you are”; but, like others, I also have my positive and negative features. It’s difficult to praise yourself and I think I have a demand for freedom and independence in big doses. I don’t like when someone intervenes in my private space; I might spend the night together with my friend, but I need isolation as well, even with my family members, I’ve had this taking-shelter feeling since childhood. 

ARE YOU POLITICALLY ACTIVE? 

Like any ordinary person, I’m interested in the society where I live. I can actively participate in processes and it’s absolutely unacceptable for me to highlight some institutions as democracy spotlights and to be friends with them. I should be absolutely independent as an artist and obey only myself. I will express my opinion, give my answer, go on demonstrations; but I won’t become a member of any organization and compromise my independence. 

IS WRITING A KIND OF THERAPY FOR YOU? 

Writing is more exploring for me and I try to deepen into themes which provoke my thoughts and answer interesting questions. But if I have threatened this or that theme, it does not mean that the subject is closed and I have explored and found all the answers. 

IS IT DIFFICULT TO BE FAR IN REALITY FROM THOSE THEMES WHICH YOU TREAT WHILE WRITING? 

It’s a very professional issue and without it you will go mad. When you are intensively involved in working, it often happens that your thoughts are focused on your novel. You might be frying potatoes and thinking about your hero’s fate. But, of course, not every day and in every moment. 

HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOUR HERO’S FATE IS IN YOUR HANDS? 

I don’t see this in such a way. People think that, as an author, you can play with your heroes like you can with chess figures. But, in reality, I don’t often know what will happen on the next page. I like losing control while writing and it is truly a very intuitive process; I simply follow the story and see how my hero’s fate develops. It’s very individual, though- some authors mathematically plan precisely what happens in the next chapter. 

DO YOU KNOW BEFOREHAND THAT READERS WILL APPRECIATE YOUR BOOK? 

Of course no, and that’s a good thing, otherwise everything would be planned beforehand and would lose its charm. For example, everyone was scared about the 1200-pages of ‘The Eighth Life” which later became the advantage of the novel. Sometimes it happens that you love your book, but readers have a different opinion. Generally, I don’t make myself suffer writing about actual and fashionable themes. 

ARE YOU FOND OF TRAVELING? 

I love it! Thanks to my profession, I have to travel a lot and, in general, we lead a kind of gypsy way of life. Once a novel sees daylight, I have a tour. ‘The Eighth Life’ was the real culmination and factually, I was touring for a year-and-a-half. 

WHICH HUMAN FEATURES DO YOU APPRECIATE MOST? 

Simplicity. People I meet who are distinguished with intellect and talent, in general, are very simple. I hate playing roles in my sphere and in every field of culture. I just can’t stand it when I feel it’s false. 

IS IT IMPORTANT FOR A WRITER TO KNOW PSYCHOLOGY? 

I think, first of all, writing is the ability to observe. It’s impossible to write if you’re not curious and interested in people. In my case, some aspects are intuitive and I don’t know why it happens so, but it happens; why a person acts so in my imagination. The western culture likes to explain everything, for example, you like stewed strawberry juice because your grandma used to make it for you in your childhood. Well, I think it is impossible to explain everything. 

ARE EMOTIONS OF THE PERIOD IN WHICH YOU LIVE MATERIALIZED IN YOUR BOOKS? 

All my books express that time and space where I was while writing. When I now read ‘Juja,’ I feel that I’m somewhere in my 20s and it’s natural, motivating me to move forward. Everything that happened- my feelings, themes that inspired my thoughts -this everything has formed me and my books. 

WHICH OF YOUR NOVELS HAD THE DEEPEST RESONANCE IN GERMANY? 

More alternative and experiment-lovers like ‘Juja,’ an odd, anarchist and specific book. ‘My Gentle Twin’ is more a classic love story; but my recent novel ‘The Eighth Life,’ had the deepest resonance. It’s about Georgia and refers to many people here. I hope it will be translated into Georgian in the next year. 

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA OF CREATING AND CURATING THE FESTIVAL ‘PERSPECTIVE – TALKS ABOUT LITERATURE’? 

It is a project of the Goethe Institute, Tbilisi 3rd International Festival and the Georgian National Book Center in the scopes of Georgian and German friendship. The program features meetings between Georgian and German writers. In addition, six German and six Georgian authors will travel in different regions of Georgia. This experience and exchanging of ideas will inspire them to create texts that later will be issued in Germany as one book and presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018, where Georgia will participate with the status of Guest of Honor.

PHOTO : DANNY MERZ / SOLLSUCHSTELLE

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