Country of Red Azaleas

I was interviewed late last year by “Work in Progress” a literary journal that features the work of authors involved in a book project: a novel, a short story collection, or similar creative endeavor. I spoke to them about my forthcoming third novel “Country of Red Azaleas” :

“For me, art is an awakening. The question of the role of art and of the artist vis-à-vis the violence and injustice in the world is an agonizing one.  As a politically engaged artist and citizen of the world, as a refugee from a brutal dictatorship I believe art should create an oasis even in the midst of the worst brutalities, an alternative life of the imagination that would awaken readers and spectators and urge them to pose important questions of themselves such as: “What is my role in today’s society?” “How can I initiate or contribute to change in my world?” “How does one survive trauma and keep one’s integrity of body and soul?” However, I do not believe in art that becomes the vehicle for various ideologies or that is preachy, as that often has the opposite effect and also tends to be quite boring. Neither do I believe in art that idealizes violence or on the contrary, indulges in blow by blow descriptions of violent acts. Aesthetic choices also bear an ethical weight, and rather than perpetuating or repeating traumatic acts through recounting them in narrative, drama or film the work of art should lead us to understanding and transcendence of trauma, to recovery and wholeness. It’s all rather ineffable and one cannot be prescriptive when it comes to art and its role in society; it’s a very fine balance between achieving aesthetic beauty and civic responsibility, between creating art that is both aesthetically and politically engaging and it is an agonizing search, but the journey is worth the trouble if one is a passionate artist and cannot live without creating. In my forthcoming novel Country of Red Azaleas a conversation between the two protagonists, Marija and Lara, encloses an ars poetica of sorts: “’Tell the truth without telling the story. Once you tell the story it’s become fiction and someone will like it and want to sell it or buy it.’ But how could you tell the truth without telling the story I always wondered? That was Marija’s conundrum.” And then Lara’s reflection on the words of her friend Marija also point to a possible way of dealing with violence in art: “She shrouded us in a cozy cooling silence forgetfulness dis-remembering that wasn’t really like you forgot everything but like you remembered but it didn’t touch you and you said good bye to it.”

So it is all very contradictory, the artist has to be able to achieve an aesthetically unified work by bringing together opposing tensions, forces, needs: tell untold truths while startling the imagination, initiate social change without sermonizing, awakening not just emotions but lucid thinking. It is not sure whether art really changes the world as so many of us engaged in its creation would like to and need to believe, but what is certain is that we can’t afford to not keep creating. Every oasis created by the imagination with tenderness and responsibility is a move against violence and injustice.

The full interview with WIP Journal may be found at :

Country of Red Azaleas will be ready for publication by the Hachette Group in April 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s