Alan Cherchesov


Alan Cherchesov (1962) was born in the city of Vladikavkaz, capital of the republic of North Ossetia.  His father Georgii Cherchesov was a well-known writer. Alan Cherchesov writes in Russian and has published three novels: Requiem for Living (1994; and, in English, Northwestern University Press, 2005), Wreath for the Grave of the Wind (2000), and Villa Belle-Lettre (2005). His short stories and scholarly articles have been widely published, in Russian and French, Flemish, and German. He has received numerous literary awards, and was a finalist for the 2006 Russian Booker Award. The International Poetry Festival in Berlin noted that Cherchesov, who writes in Russian, “achieves with his work a complicated balancing act as he is on the one hand an Ossetian writer who stands for Ossetian cultural identity and on the other hand he is celebrated in the Moscow feuilletons as a Russian author.” 

Cherchesov was a resident of the IWP in 2010 where he was able to finish his fourth novel, Don Ivan. The following interview was conducted on October 27, 2010, in Shambaugh House.

ZA: I was looking at the map yesterday to find out where Vladikavkaz exactly is. I was surprised to see that it was so close to the border with Georgia. As you said, it is almost in Asia but not exactly. And also it is very close to Chechnya. I did this because what we are trying to do here is connect the dots of the world by inviting writers from around the world and putting them together in a group so they have the chance to accommodate each other. My first question to you, in this context, is: what connection do you make between Vladikavkaz that is so far and so different from Iowa City and the Iowa City, in which you found yourself? What can the connection be?

AC: First of all, it is not something unusual for me [to be out of Ossetia], because I have already a good deal of experience with traveling the world. For example, I have been to Europe and stayed there several times for several weeks or even months, and I have already this experience of accommodating, as you put it, to various people from different places. It helps you a lot; it helps you feel the pulse of literature. The only difference between the previous occasions and now is that, when I started these experiences, I was the youngest of the group. That is no more the case. Also, the people that gather in here speak English much better than in the previous places. The United States and, especially, Iowa City are a very good chance for us to realize our own experiences and our feelings about our home places. There is a brilliant American saying for this: the first time the fish [learns] what water is [happens] when it is out of the water. From time to time you have to get out of your own waters. It helps you analyze what is going on in your own country. Frankly, year after year I am becoming more pessimistic about what is going on in my country. At the same time, I am sure that I am a lucky person, and because of my foreign travels I feel now more confident of understanding my citizen’s duties back home. It seems to me very important to explain to the people at home that they live with stereotypes that don't have much in common with reality. I think people [in my country] experience envy. When they get the opportunity to travel and find themselves somewhere in Western Europe or in the United States, they are shocked. Now, a lot of them do understand that life here is much more convenient than their own. At the same time, they feel pain, because they don't have a chance to become a part of this convenience. Even getting a visa is a rather humiliating process. In my own case, I'm married to a Bulgarian, our two kids have Bulgarian passports, and, although I’m the invitee to some prestigious European residency, they can freely accompany me there, whereas I have to go through the process of visa application. I don't think that with these strict visa requirements the West helps our citizens integrate in the larger world. It doesn’t help the people in Russia to feel the advantages of democracy. They know that they live in the richest country of the world in terms of natural resources. They know that our education used to be the best in the world. They know that we were one of the two greatest countries in the world; I mean, one of the two most powerful countries during the Cold War. And suddenly, they lost these sources of natural pride in the changed world. As you know, people don't like to blame themselves; they prefer to blame somebody else, someone on the side. Many among our people, including young people, who have not lived through the difficulties of the communist times, feel cut off from Western life. And they see two options: either emigrate and find some kind of asylum outside of Russia or stay in their own country forever and face terrorism, poverty, job loss, and things like that. At least, in the former Soviet Union they were better protected, today they face terrorist attacks. Many of them hate the Western countries just because they see that they don't have any opportunities even to visit these countries, not to mention sharing their earthly blessings. It is not only about the adults but also about their kids. Not only their kids but two or three generations ahead. For example, people wonder about Germany: they think, we beat them in the Second World War and now it is one of the most powerful countries in Europe. Why this is so, they ask? The answer they believe in is: because the United States helped the Germans recover. But the United States never helped Russia. This is a fertile soil for conspiracy theories to flourish.

ZA: Let's talk about Russian literature. Today, the big Russian classic authors are not well known to the young people. It is very interesting to me that you set the stage for our conversation in this particular way: how the world looks from inside of Russia. I cannot believe that you, personally, don’t live with the tradition of Russia and Russian literature. But you seem to imply that, regardless of the improved means of communication, there is a wall between Russia and the rest of the world, and this wall is actually cultural. And this cultural wall is being built by keeping the people who live in Russia today in isolation. So, is it a fair assessment that it is Russia actually that has isolated herself culturally from the rest of the world?

AC: We would not feel isolated if we could be more deeply involved in the world cultural transfers. But practically, we isolate ourselves even by losing the professional teachers we had before in high school. They have diplomas but during college they were bad students. These newly hatched teachers I’m talking about have never read Dostoyevsky, for example. You can imagine the result! I am running my own private Institute, and every year it is more and more difficult to recruit candidates from high schools who would excel. There are fewer excellent students than before; the majority of the high school graduates lack the habit to read, and thus—what is even more dangerous—they don't have the habit to analyze. Because of the Internet and the illusion that they can find everything on the web sites, they live in a world of aberration regarding two important notions: knowledge and information. Instead of knowledge, students in high school receive information. And people who are not knowledgeable but rely on information can be easily manipulated. I'm convinced that every government in the world would be able to more easily manipulate people who are not educated. These people believe that if they are unhappy, there must be someone who did this to them on purpose. And this someone could not be from inside Russia because there is so much rhetoric about our patriotism, our traditions, our great heritage, our great history, etc. We are dealing here with not only pro-Russian but also anti-Western rhetoric. I must confess that until 1987, I was sure that the Soviet Union and the socialist system were granted from heaven. I was absolutely sure that we lived in the best country of the world, and I didn't have any doubts that there was something wrong with the communist ideas. I was sure that what was wrong had to do with our authorities. And in 1987, I suddenly realized that this was such a mistake.

ZA: What made you realize your mistake?

AC: It was the opening to knowledge [about the world]. We got the right to read books and magazines prohibited for ages. These were the glasnost and perestroika years. It took me two years to realize how mistaken was our belief that our regime was a system for the people. This looked already like another country. And in a few years we lost the whole country, which was very painful for the people. Since that time I don’t allow myself to accept any idea for granted, without skepticism. It is not easy. People in general are not used to freedom, they are afraid of it. Freedom is the most frightening thing. This is true, as far as my experience goes, for all countries that were in the former Soviet camp. Young people tend to revert to communism because of lack of other appealing ideas. This is a process through which Western Europe went in the seventies. There were people dissatisfied with the capitalist world and that caused the creation of anarchist groups.

ZA: I would like now to use the set of mind you just outlined as the background of our further conversation. And my first question to you is: which literary tradition do you belong to? I mean this in terms of your inevitably deriving your own writing from some kind of a literary tradition. Moreover, I'm interested in understanding how this tradition helped you overcome your apprehensions regarding the relations you had about the brainwashed world, in which you used to leave before 1987.

AC: [Ironically]Thank you for this very difficult question. Many things In my perception have changed. When I started to write, I was absolutely sure that I belong to the so-called neorealist tradition. I have in mind the new realistic tradition that was conceived and considered in Soviet literary criticism, something like realism without borders. This was a tradition including writers such as Hemingway, Faulkner, and sometimes even Kafka. Of course, they were modernists, but the official point of view in the Soviet Union was that they were very, very talented realists. They were trying to analyze the whole world through their experience. They were fighting for an idea of a human being. But this was also a kind of a trick. Without this trick, it would be almost impossible to publish these writers. They needed some kind of official protection from the censorship. It was another kind of aberration. I started writing under the great influence of Faulkner. His was a modernist tradition of the first half of the 20th century. I wanted to create my own world, and it was not just my personal decision to follow in the steps of Faulkner. To mention just one name, it was Gabriel Garcia Marquez who benefited from this kind of influence. He decided to create his own world settled in Colombia, and I decided to create my own world settled in Ossetia. It was the Ossetia of my imagination. This was the Ossetia of my existential problems. Later, I wrote a novel, which is in some sort a mythological one and at the same time is full of existential characters. It was very interesting for me, maybe because I was fighting for my own freedom. I had to find out what the human being is if given the opportunity to start life from the very beginning, and what choices a human in such a situation would make. They could be very bad but also very good choices. There is inevitably a conflict between these two kinds of choices. I wanted badly to find the way, in which light could overcome darkness. I was not sure if I had succeeded until the very last page [was written]. When I finished this novel I was extremely happy, but I felt exhausted. I understood that from now on I would not be able to write about this world [of mine] anymore. Everything I was able to say, I had already said. After I was done with Wreath on the Wind’s Grave [my third novel, not yet translated in English], I felt a bit dishonest. In it I referred to the past, and it was an imaginary past; it was not a historical past. I felt that now I should check out my strengths by tackling a contemporary reality.

ZA: You mentioned only American authors. Do you consider Faulkner your teacher?

AC: Yes, of course. When I was a [college] student, I was very much involved in researching modern American literature, and later, when I became a graduate student at Moscow University, my PhD was on the American culture and literature. Thus, it was [obviously] something I admired, and which I was very grateful to. I liked very much American literature because it was not synthetic, it didn’t use any make-up and it had its own nerve. The American authors never pretended to be better than they were, and this is a kind of courage. For a young man, who used to deal with Soviet literature, this was something very unusual. It was almost like another pole of the literary tradition. After that, for many years, I was attracted more to the European literature. I wanted to read more philosophical novels, more intellectual novels. Of course, there were some brilliant authors in the U. S., such as Saul Bellow, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and others who are very good at that. But there was something in the European tradition that I needed, perhaps 15 or 10 years ago, which gave me some balance in searching of my own way to deal with literary traditions and tendencies.

ZA: Here is another difficult question. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that by making these choices, you have rejected the big Russian tradition. At the same time, the young people today do not care about the Russian tradition because, as you said, they don't need it, they don't know it, and they don't have good teachers – and maybe this makes sense in your own life. By choosing American and European authors as your guides, you may have wanted to escape the reality that you were living in?

AC: Indeed, it is a very difficult question. You cannot account for the subconscious; you can tell only things that you are conscious of. Maybe in my subconscious [world] there were some processes that led me to look into the American tradition. Speaking consciously, I have a different explanation. I admire Russian literature. I still think that Chekov is the most talented author of all times. From time to time I feel that I badly need to reread him. It is a way of recharging my batteries. Unfortunately, I don't like the contemporary Russian literature that much. What I mean by this is that it is a kind of synthetic literature. Every author who is more or less popular in today’s Russia strains to show his own originality. This would be okay if you have enough talent, enough pain in your heart, or if you have enough ideas in your mind, or if you are very good in your style. Unfortunately, you don't meet all these ingredients in contemporary Russian authors. We don't have such figures like Bulgakov or Platonov, or if we do, no one knows about them. There is no need of them. This is very sad. What is extremely important for me is to work with the words. I work with Russian words; after all, this is the only language I can write fiction in. So, I have to keep working with the words to be able to continue with this kind of Russian tradition. I'm not talking only about writers who represent Russian tradition from within Russia, but I have in mind also Russians who had emigrated abroad like Nabokov and Gazdanov. Also I have in mind the tradition of poets such as Marina Tzvetaeva, who was so strong in working the meanings and ideas into words that almost no one actually liked her much while she was alive. Now it is obvious that she was perhaps number one among Russian poets. In conclusion, I would like to hope that I belong to this kind of tradition. I write in a way that is rather difficult, editing every single page hundreds of times just to be honest in terms of language. I want to be honest also in terms of our tradition. It's not about marking my presence in literature; it is more about suffering it. In that sense, it is not easy for the critics to understand where I am now. After my third novel was published, and its main character is literature itself, some of them wrote that it’s a kind of post-postmodern novel; someone said that it was neo-modern writing. Both points of view are perhaps right unless they have any wrong ideas beyond what they said.

ZA: My impression from the chapters of your second novel that I read in Russian was of a superb language, a language with special energy and special imagery. This is the kind of language that is very difficult to read. At the same time, the content is mythological. Given these features of your novels, how do you relate to your readers? Are you interested in who your readers are, and do you imagine your readers while writing? My question has a philosophical part, namely, how your books relate to your ambition to be read after your death, and a mundane part, which is simply who are your readers today?

AC: When I am writing, I don't think much about my readers, because I write what I need to write. This is what I call honesty to the text. I would prefer to have fulfilled myself completely. And that remains more often than not unrecognized by the reader. It could be painful, but it is preferable to writing something for the reader. At the same time, when I write, I think that my readers are the writers whom I admire. Mostly, these are writers from the past. To reach some goal in the presence, you need to put as your standard the guys from the past. Yes, indeed, I would say that they are my imaginary readers. Sometimes, it is necessary to include in your novel different styles. That is what I did in my third novel; actually, I made a very interesting experiment with myself. I included language from literary trends that existed more than a hundred years ago and language from the beginning of 21st century. I was happy to do it, because, you know, when you are imitating the style of the 19th century Russian literature, you are actually creating a singular language. I needed to put something from Chekov, something from Turgenev, something from Tolstoy or from Dostoevsky, and they are so different. As a result, I created something that was very different from them.

ZA: Have you reread some of them before doing this experiment?

AC: No, no. If I really read them I would find myself under strong pressure. I used just my idea of their writings. On the other hand, when I'm rereading these authors I still love them very, very much. It is obvious, however, that in what I have written in the 19 century style the author is still me.

ZA: Does your 19th century style match something that happens in your novel in the past?

AC: I’m talking about styles of six different authors, with their different names. They are characters in my novel. Actually, the main character of this novel is literature itself, and each of them is trying to understand their own way in literature. That is why my Literature is a very beautiful woman, who cannot belong to anyone. Everybody is in love with her, and each of them is absolutely sure that he's spent a night with her before she vanished. It is a metaphor. I was enjoying writing this novel very much. Another thing was also very important for me: I could use many words that I was not allowed to use when I was referring to the past, when I was speaking about the mountains and writing my previous stories. And finally, through the voices of a range of writers, I was able to use freely words that I knew I needed. So, it was a step toward more freedom. To come back to your question about the readers, currently I am working on a novel, which I hope will have a lot of success. I decided to write a book, which I myself have been dreaming about to read for ages. It goes from when I was a boy until today. It is a novel that will be very easy to read and at the same time one that will be difficult to understand. I hope it will be a book for everyone. Also it is a novel that disappears at the end. It was a brave decision that I made to put this kind of ending that no one else had done before. I am trying to find my own way all the time. It is a novel that disappears, but at the same time it has already influenced the life of the characters and readers. By the way, this is characteristic for the Russian literary tradition. So, to sum up, this type of literature is useful to the reader, and it is strong enough to change the world a bit, at least in my last novel it happens. I very much hope that I'll finish it while I am still here in the United States. My first novel I finished while I was in Bulgaria, my second book I finished during my stay in Germany, my third one was finished while I was visiting Belgium, and now it is the turn of the United States. It is indeed much easier for me to write when I am abroad.

ZA: Let's now talk about other aspects of your life. What is America for you? How did you become interested in America? Was your connection with America established just through literature or also through other ways? What role does America play for the evolution of your own personality?

AC: It started as a child, with Mark Twain maybe. Movies were also very important. American movies were totally different from Soviet movies of the time. Take a detective story. If it is an American movie you are totally in, and the tension is real, the danger is real, the killers are real. If it was one made in the Soviet Union, you didn't have any of that, because they had to follow the rules of socialist realism and it turned out to be a stupidity. There were some other things like jeans; the only chance for us, the ordinary Soviet boys, to get some jeans was to buy them from Bulgaria. If someone could go out to Europe, it was to Eastern Europe, of course, to the socialist camp. If someone was able to go to Yugoslavia, he was considered the happiest of men. Next, someone would be very, very lucky if he had permission to go to France or England. But there were just a few people who could travel across the ocean and reach the United States. And some of those would come back with one of these big Cadillacs – these were mostly some circus artists–something unimaginable to all of us. The United States attracted so many people because it was too far. When I was growing up in the sixties and the seventies, Hemingway was the most popular author in the Soviet Union, in every single apartment you could see his portrait and his novels. There was no writer born in Soviet Russia wielding such popular rapture. He was an American, and he described bullfighting, which is a European thing, he was one who loved it clearly, and his descriptions of Italy were the best known descriptions of Italy the people of the Soviet Union could get. I got a stipend to come to the U.S. and visit Indiana University in Bloomington in 1995. I stayed there for nine months, and it was a great experience.

ZA: Do you remember how the image of America matched or changed your preconception about America?

AC: From the very beginning I understood that what we have seen in the movies had almost nothing in common with reality. People looked much more polite and there was no shooting everywhere. [A big laughter.] It also looked a very safe place. I came here with my family, and there were many places where my kids could play [without danger]. The rules seemed to be observed very strictly. If something is prohibited, it is prohibited for everyone. No exception. I remember once we went to a shopping mall and left our four- and six-year old children play at some place while shopping, and when we came back, they were arrested. I had to apologize saying to the policemen how wrong I was and they told me that they will only let me go because it was my first time. In Russia when there is a prohibition, it is often regarded as a prohibition for the cowards only. [Loud and cheerful laughter.] This really is a great difference [between our two cultures]. After 9/11 happened, already nine years there were no terrorist attacks on the United States soil. If it were not so, people would become enraged with the authorities. In our country, we do have these terrorist attacks almost every day. If you go to the Internet, you will see that every day there is a report of some kind of terrorist attack on Russian territory. Some of them attract a lot of attention, others don't. People everywhere don't expect anything else from the authorities but to protect them. What I also do like in the U. S. is people’s attitude toward their own lives. They have understood that they need to be positive. It can go over board at times, but it is a good trend. The funny thing is that people here sometimes discuss existential problems as if in an hour or so all will become clear. What I do like is that, when something wrong happens, people in the U. S. consider it to be something very bad that should be prevented in the future. And this is also a main difference: people here learn from their experience. They know that there is no other way. In our country and in Europe this is different. I have also to mention the openness that I see here. We are 38 writers now in Iowa City feeling ourselves quite comfortable with each other. I had the opportunity to meet some Russian friends who had immigrated here long time ago, and they told me they didn’t like many things in the U. S. They continue to consider themselves Russians. But the good thing here is that you don't have to pretend to be anyone else but yourself. And this I regard as a special openness to the world. What I don't like about the United States is that sometimes people are too ignorant about other countries, about the outside world. They seem to learn at the moment, but they forget it very quickly.

ZA: In your essay about Europe named Grand Hotel Europa you said that Europe is a status and an idea. Can you say the same thing about America?

AC: Yes, I would say that America is a status and an idea, but these of course are different from what Europe is. America is the idea of the holy land; it is the American dream which seems to be still alive. That looks very strange to the foreigners. Of course, it is a status. For instance, it is enough to find yourself at the border and to feel that you enter a country with a special status. So many times before flying here you are being warned that your visa does not allow you to enter the United States automatically, because the officer at the border may decide that you're not eligible to enter the country. That is absolutely outrageous for a person from Europe. So, you have to respect the rule, you have to be nice with the officer, and he is aware of his power. It is not possible here for someone to allow something, let alone violating the rules, to a person just because he looks very nice, whereas this is perfectly possible in Russia and even in most of Europe. The idea of the United States implies that people here feel that they should be first. They don't feel comfortable if somebody is already too close to them. In that case they begin to push more. In America democracy is something very obvious. I went to listen to one of the candidates for the presidency in the 2012 elections; he was speaking on a lawn here in Iowa City in front of about 40 students. He was speaking with these young people and he was very detailed in his arguments. This is something that amazes me. In Russia, no one would care to talk in a small city of 62,000 people! Here it is very important to talk to the people face-to-face even if they are only 40 of them. And this seems to be the idea of this country: if I need to achieve some goal, I need to speak to the people and to be very persuasive. That means that I may get a lot of questions, and I have to answer them. So to be the first, to be the best, and to try each of us at any time, that is a strong feature of America I observe. The level of responsibility of every single citizen is higher than anywhere else.

ZA: What strikes me is that you provide examples of America that are not so relevant to high culture, whereas I perceived your essay about Europe as a text about culture, about European cultural tradition. Is there some differences that you see in a cultural sense between America on the one hand and the countries you have visited and Russia on the other?

AC: When you are in Europe, the whole context is different and you know that you are embedded in a very thick cultural context. In the United States, you don't feel that. For example, you are in Paris and you attend some museum or a memorial place, you're absolutely sure in your anticipation that there will be a lot of stuff to look at. My first experience in 1995 when I found myself in Washington DC, which is perhaps one of the most attractive places for foreign tourists, is from approaching the Lincoln Memorial with the expectation to see some kind of huge museum; I was looking for a museum. To my big surprise and in a sense, to my shame, there was nothing behind the monument, and it appeared that I was the only one looking for it. It is something very unusual and it can be okay, but you understand that every single event in American history has to be memorized and popularized—hence, these special excursions to the White House, which is a very small place actually, and tourists are allowed to get in, which to my mind is something unbelievable. In Russia, of course, it is unimaginable to be in the same building where the president is. You may be left inside the Kremlin wall, but not in the building where the president resides or works. This is another proof of America’s openness, of American standards of democracy. At the same time people here … well, they are trying to get education, but they seem to me to be just too pragmatic. What is literature and culture? It is not something that gives you a good chance to earn money. On the other hand, if you are very good at it, you will get the chance to earn big money. On average it is difficult to understand if culture is profitable or not profitable. When you meet with students in Europe, you know that they have read much more than the students here. I had a talk with American students, and they were supposed to have read something, and they have maybe tried to do it, but the feedback they gave me showed that they had not very good understanding of what they have read. That's how I see the main difference: in America, there is a pragmatic attitude to almost everything. In Europe, culture is the basis of everything. It is something you feel you belong to. It is something that no one could take away from you. Whereas in America, well, it is [regarded as] a very interesting thing, a very interesting idea, yes, some day I will look at it, someday I will read it, someday I will think it over. In Europe, you keep thinking it over all the time. It is not just some kind of concrete moment, aha, I have here 15 min., there is a break in the football match, let me see what it is about. That is why Americans are considered by Europeans as very rich children. And I heard this so many times: Americans are naïve children. In 1995, I was lecturing at the Indiana university and I was faced with an astonishing fact. During some class work the students in fourth year were asked to analyze two or three poems translated from Russian into English. One of these poems was dedicated to the theme of death, and in Europe, this was absolutely obvious to anyone. Here, no one, not a single student, could ever guess that this was a poem about death. The professor asked me whether I could explain to the students what this poem was about. And when I told them, okay guys, it is very simple, it is about death, they were looking at me as if I was a genius. They looked at me in disbelief. O yes, you're right, you're incredible, where did you get your education?

ZA: Why did you decide to come to this IWP residency?

AC: Several reasons: one of them is that, when I came here two years ago as part of a Russian delegation, I liked the people. It was also very interesting for me that the writers whom we met here in October 2008 looked so happy. [Laughing out loudly.] So, I decided to investigate why they were looking so happy. But the main reason is that I needed to find some place to get out of my usual system of coordinates that had started to oppress me. From time to time, I need to find myself totally like a stranger vis-à-vis my own novel, my own text. That implies that I need to change my point of view, to have a check whether I got it right or wrong. If you have to doubt what you are doing, crossing the ocean is a very good opportunity. It is totally different here. You get a lot of new impressions, and more importantly, you get some new influences. It is a different air, different landscape. And of course, sharing your ideas with other writers, be able to attend their meetings is also quite helpful.

ZA: Do you feel happy now?

AC: I will feel happy when I finish my novel. Right now, I'm very much delighted to be here. There was nothing that I didn't like so far.

ZA: Now let me ask you another question that I ask every writer I interviewed: has anybody taught you to write? Did you have a teacher in creative writing? What is your opinion on teaching somebody to write?

AC: I was taught by a way of example, the example of my father. He was a writer, and at the same time had to go to work every single day. He became a minister of culture of our Republic. He was very happy when I came to the United States in 1995. It was one of his dreams to travel a lot and to understand the rest of the world. So, because he was a writer, I could see how difficult it is to write. But I was sure that it would become my way as well. When I was a youngster, at times he asked me to edit his texts. I did it, and it was a very good school for me. I could see how many choices you make all the time and that you have to be very careful in keeping with the emotions and the ideas. At one point there was a writing competition in school which consisted in writing a story. My mother was very proud of me. I was a ten-year old boy, and my story was read to people who were 17-year old. I was also very proud of myself. But then, my father came home and asked me to show him my text. I did, he read it and told me: unfortunately, there is no trace of my son in here. Everything that I had used was already written by someone else. I was so angry. I was furious, but I remembered this for my entire life. I understood that I had to find my own way. Because what is writing? It's nothing else but a way to be yourself and at the same time to be something more than yourself. It is not enough to follow your logic. You need to find your own metaphor. The metaphor is stronger than logic; it includes not only your consciousness but also your sub-consciousness. And that is something metaphysical. So when you're looking for these metaphors and you are trying to be honest, and you're lucky, you can find the explanation of many things that are torturing you.

ZA: Given that you live in a Russian republic which is ethnically different, do you have problems with your identity?

AC: Yes, all the time. It is very dangerous when a person has no problems with identity. It is something, for which you have to search at any single moment of your life. In my case, it was somehow that was given to me as a task in a natural way. My father is Ossetian and my mother is Russian. I’m not fluent in Ossetian, but I was born in Ossetia. When I published my first novel, many people asked me why I haven't written it in Ossetian. My answer was, because I don't know it like I know Russian. If you know Ossetian very well, I used to add, try to translate one page of my novel. No one was able to do it until now. Although the Ossetian population is naturally bilingual, people prefer to speak Russian. The situation is like in Ireland. In Ireland only 3% of the people prefer to speak Gaelic, but we didn’t lose Ireland as a nation! We know that the so-called English literature was written mostly by Irish writers. If you would like to keep a small nation’s language, you have to create values in this language that are of importance for the whole world.

ZA: How are you viewed by the literary establishment in Russia: as a Russian writer or as an Ossetian writer who writes in Russian?

AC: My first novel was considered as a Russian novel by the Russians, and as Ossetian one by the Ossetians. My third novel is already considered a Russian novel. I think I'm considered mostly as a Russian writer, but, because I started with these two local novels, every critic knows that I'm from Ossetia. When I have a reading or have a chance to speak at a conference, I emphasize that I am from Ossetia. That is very important for me. I want to explain to the people who I am and what Ossetia is.

Introduction and Interview: Zlatko Anguelov

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