Mircea Cărtărescu Interview on Words Without Borders

Romanian poet, fiction writer, and journalist Mircea Cărtărescu was awarded the 2016 Premio Gregor von Rezzori for his trilogy Blinding. Born in Bucharest in 1956, he is one of Romania’s premier writers. His works of prose include NostalgiaTravesti, and The Levant, among others. His awards include the 2012 Berlin Prize for Literature, the 2013 Spycher-Leuk in Switzerland, and the 2015 Austrian State Prize for European Literature.

I had the opportunity to speak with Mircea about his evolution as a writer and the creation of his prize-winning novel Blinding during the 2016 Festival degli Scrittori in Florence, Italy, before he was announced as the winner of the Gregor von Rezzori Prize.

Words Without Borders: How did you come to writing and how have you evolved as a writer over time?

Mircea Cărtărescu (MC): I grew up in a house without books. My parents were simple workers and they didn’t read. To have anything to read, I had to go to the library to borrow books. Reading became the great pleasure of my life. I bought books whenever I could and I started to build, little by little, my own bookcase at home and to gather 100, 200 books that I loved. Before being a writer I was a great reader. If I look back, I always see myself with a book in my hands. And because I read so much, poetry and also prose, at a certain moment, I felt the need to write myself—to write first poems, then my own short stories, and so on. I remember that my first novel was begun at the age of nine. It was a novel consisting of ten pages.

WWB: That’s a lot for a nine-year-old.

MC: Yes, it was a long novel. It was my bildungsroman. College was the perfect milieu for me to develop as a writer. I studied letters and I had great professors. Some of the best literary critics in Romania were my professors, and because of them and because of my wonderful colleagues from the same generation, I started to trust myself, to have the courage to express what I wanted to say. When I was twenty, I wrote my first professional poem, which I ended up publishing with my first volume of poetry when I was twenty-four. At first I only wrote poetry. I wrote six or seven volumes before starting to write fiction. I shifted to prose because at a certain moment, I got sick and tired with writing poetry. It was a big corpus of poetry—about 1000 pages. I said “it is enough,” and I divorced from poetry and married prose.

It was the most important step in my career when I realized that I was not mainly a poet but a prose writer. This started to change everything. My first book of fiction was a collection of five stories called Nostalgia, published in 1989, which is now a cult book in Romania. It was a book of youth. Even now I have nostalgia for Nostalgia, for that first book, which contains all the topics of my later writings.

I was forced to invent my ancestors . . . I always envy aristocratic writers who have a long record of their families. But I don’t. So I had to invent.

WWB: How did Blinding, the novel nominated for the Gregor von Rezzori Prize, come about? What inspired it?

MC: Blinding was the greatest adventure of my life. The book had been for a long time in my mind—seven or eight years—before I started writing it. Once I started, I fell into a sort of a trance that lasted for fourteen years. I wrote the book just as though I were transcribing it. I never erased anything, no more than one or two words in ten pages. It was like it flowed from the first page to the last page. I have the original manuscript at home because I wrote it by hand—it’s three big notebooks full of very tiny and very minute writing. It was the adventure of my life. I was tremendously happy.

WWB: How much of that work relied on memories and how much of it was created from your imagination, and where do you see that line?

MC: I am not very conscious about the distinction between real memories and false memories and invented memories and so on. So for example I start writing about my mother and my mother’s ancestors, but because my mother was a simple peasant, I don’t know many things about my grandparents, her mother and father. So if I didn’t have enough real information, I was forced to invent my ancestors. Invent a history of my family. I always envy aristocratic writers who have a long record of their families. But I don’t. So I had to invent all kinds of characters—very strange, very peculiar—and pretend that they were my grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. So in my case, the imagination substitutes for the lack of memories, the lack of documents, and so on, about my own life and the life of the previous people in my lineage. Maybe it is because of this lack of information that my books are so imaginative.

For the full interview click HERE.