Wednesday, June 11, 2014

If you’re ever wanting for a direct assessment of your talents, ask a Bosnian.

Photo: Kyle Coma-Thompson 

Tobias Carroll interviews Kyle Coma-Thompson for Vol.1 Brooklyn, whose new collection of short stories, The Lucky Body, is just out on Dock Street Press. I haven't read the book but the interview got me really intrigued. Apparently, Eastern Europe is at the core of several of the stories (and in Coma-Thompson's upcoming novel) and Carroll asked what attracted him to that setting. Here's his answer, in full (the bold is mine):
I’d say Eastern Europe was on my mind while I was writing these stories because three of my closest friends, whom I see regularly, emigrated from there, two from Bosnia, one from Romania. One of the Bosnians and the Romanian are professors of history, the other Bosnian is a poet. The poet was, in fact, the person who first suggested to me that I try writing stories. The reason? He hates my poems. If you’re ever wanting for a direct assessment of your talents, ask a Bosnian. They’ll put a swift end to any illusions you might be having. 
So when these friends and I get together, we drink. When we drink, we tell stories. The benefit of telling stories with a historian in the room is that you can often count on getting the long view of certain events and details. 
That said, I’ve gravitated towards the literature of Eastern Europe long before I fell into writing fiction. Miroslav Holub, Zbigniew Herbert, and Celan were some of the first poets whose writing was consistently engaging to me; the same for Bruno Schulz, Ivo Andrić, and Danilo Kiš, with fiction. Something about the formalist approach to socio-political subject matter had a solid, resonant appeal to me; and this, I think, is a general trait of Eastern European literature, or at least a trait common among those writers who have been translated into English and perhaps packaged that way, to feed into an aura of presumed cultural relevance during the Cold War period. 
No bullshit in a sharp, exacting style, with flair. I supposed that’s what appealed to me.
I love this answer and I think it describes the flair with which us Balkan people go about life and friendships. I just never really thought about our literature in that way but then again, my knowledge of Eastern European literature is pretty dismal. I am excited to pick up The Lucky Body and also maybe commit to learning my people's literature.

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