I breathe better and freer in India: French author Jean Echenoz (IANS Interview)
New Delhi, Nov 3 (IANS) Heaping praise on India and its culture, prominent French author Jean Echenoz, well known for novels like “Cherokee” (Big Blondes) and “I’m Off”, said that the country makes him feel freer and he breathes better here.
“The first time I came here was 40 years ago. Post that, I have visited it quite often as I feel impressed by its culture. I feel that I breathe better and freer here than I do anywhere else. There is always a feeling of familiarity to this land,” the author told IANS in an interview.
“The culture here is far removed from France. There have been times when I have stayed here for a period of three or four months. Such long visits have always been to South India.”
The writer feels connected with the land but denies much familiarity with Indian literature, saying: “I can’t really say that I know Indian literature well. I know very little about it. I read more classics. I don’t read any contemporary literature.”
He said he’s not familiar with foreign literature or languages. “I really don’t have the time to dabble in it though I am very much interested in whatever is going around in the contemporary world,” he said.
Talking of his favourite classics, Echenoz said: “It’s funny because when I was in school the authors that I love today were imposed on me then. At the age of 25, I started discovering these people and fell for them. Charles Dickens’ ‘Great expectations’ is closest to my heart.”
He has written around 15 novels till date in French. Most of his works have been translated into English.
It is difficult to retain the essence of the original work in translations. Many vocabularies lose their quintessential meanings in the process, but Echenoz only fears that the effect of sounds will be lost during the process as, according to him, the sound and meaning of the sentence go hand in hand.
“I am not afraid of being translated. I actually feel honoured when that happens. I only write novels and give a lot of attention to sounds, not sonority or effect, word-play or alliteration but just the melody of the sentence.”
He said he is obsessed with the sound of the sentences and phrases. “I think that the noise of the words is as important as the meaning,” he explained.
The author only writes fiction and feels that his writings have some poetry but he is incapable of writing a poem by itself.
“I am no essayist. I have nothing particular to say. I feel that I have things to do and what I do is to create fiction and to make a machine out of novels — machines that will work. It’s a fact that writing is a way to describe the world,” he said.
In his own modest way he says that he doesn’t really have any message, nothing philosophical, nothing to say to the world. “If the story happens to contain a nice message then, well and good, but there is nothing didactic about my works,” he says.
The New Yorker describes Echenoz’s works as “idiosyncratic”. To which he said: “The term can be used for every piece of writing. I feel that all writings are peculiar and unique.”
According to him, sometimes a story is born of different ideas that are unconnected themselves. “It can deal with one profession and some other part of the world. When I get these seemingly unconnected ideas, I work on them,” he said.
Echenoz says he documents things, does interviews and also a lot of reading to make sure that there is a story born out of unconnected ideas.
(Mudita Girotra can be contacted at email@example.com)