Monday, 12 July 2010

INTERVIEW: ADNAN MAHMUTOVIC

Gather round and welcome author Adnan Mahmutović, who is stopping by as part of his blog tour to discuss his latest book, Thinner than a Hair.

Adnan is a Bosnian Swede, an exile who teaches literature at Stockholm University.

I asked him about the book and a little about how he works.

Hi, Adnan. Thanks for visiting.

Hi, Tom.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about the book.

Thinner than a Hair is about a feisty Bosnian girl Fatima and her attempt to retrace her steps, or rather missteps, and understand what led her to prostitution in Germany. The book doesn’t fully deal with prostitution, but the historical circumstances which seem to have pushed many Bosnian girls in that direction. Most importantly the book depicts the margins of a war, not just the clichés and the official facts we are served in history books (the sanctioned ways of presenting tragedies). One reader wrote on Amazon that she liked how I depicted the boredom in the life of a refugee.

Like all my stories, it is a kind of farewell to refugee nostalgia, a way of dealing with the survivors’ guilt that many Bosnians feel in diaspora. Fatima has survived a war, but the inner struggles have not stopped for her.

Who will it appeal to?

While I didn’t think about it so much to begin with, I see that it appeals to a rather wide range of readers, from young adult people who can identify with Fatima’s coming-of-age story to older readers who perhaps better grasp some intricacies and subtleties of the lives I dramatize.

What came first for you, the story, the characters, setting?

I began with the character of Fatima, or some image of her, but then she changed, grew up. I’d say she was shaped by the story just as the story arose from her character. What I mean is that Fatima’s story is conditioned on the history of the Balkans. Her story cannot but be a (hi)story of Bosnia, or rather she cannot but be in conflict with this history. Now, while the historical setting is the major factor in her development, we unmistakably see how she paints a particular and peculiar picture of her history.

The setting, which took shape as I went along, became a hybrid of several different places in Northern Bosnia. The readers probably won’t notice this, but I feel I need to mention it. The narrative is quite realist, but I decided not to stick with any one place. I combined different places, as if they were not adequate to begin with, as if no one place could host Fatima’s complexities.

What aspect of writing do find most rewarding?

It has to be the moment when I can feel that the characters seem independent from my personality, my character, me as an author. They never are, of course, as John Fowles has taught us, but still, there’s that moment when I know that Fatima’s voice is not mine. There’s something liberating in that.

Are you a great planner, or is writing something more spontaneous?

Not a big planner at all. Once upon a time I took a creative writing course (and didn’t finish because the teacher vanished into thin air). On the course, we talked about preparation, mapping, profiling, kind of literary CSI, or no, more like a crook that plans a heist. Doesn’t work for me. Once I start working, nothing goes according to plans. Again, it’s liberating. When I’m writing, things happen. Planning tends to kill the flow, that’s why I’m a bit stuck now, because I planned too much. “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men”, maybe this applies to me too.

Can you offer three bits of advice for someone who’s started (or wanting to start) writing a novel, but is overwhelmed by the stamina and time required.

I must tell you I don’t much fancy giving advice, even though I’m a teacher. I guess it’s individual what works for what person, motivation-wise, but I guess if you have a story you feel you absolutely must tell, there’s no stopping you. If you don’t, then maybe you shouldn’t be writing it in the first place. The time is of course always an issue. We all have other jobs to support our families. Still, having little time may be good. When I had all the time in the world, I hardly did anything. I’m sorry, I’m not being really helpful. What I want to say is that if you have a compelling story to tell, you’ll be working on it every second of your everyday life, while walking to the bus stop, sitting on the toilet, you know.

Many thanks for your insightful and interesting answers. Good luck with the book.

Thank you for having me, Tom.


Adnan left Bosnia and settled in Sweden in 1993. After a few years in a small South-Eastern town, he relocated to Stockholm to work as a personal special-needs assistant. This employment of thirteen years financed his further studies in English literature and philosophy. In May 2010 he was awarded his PhD in English literature. He has published a collection of short stories and poetry, [Refuge]e, and two novellas, Illegitimate and Thinner than a Hair. His website can be found here.

3 comments:

Helena Halme said...

This was a very interesting interview, thank you for sharing it.

I was left wondering in which language Adnan Mahmutović writes? As someone who doesn't write in her mother tongue, multilingual writers always fascinate me. Especially when, like me, they write about their home country.

Adnan said...

Helena, the book is originally in English, which is my third language. It would be great to hear your thoughts on the book.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Beautiful, Adnan - you and your work.