“It’s simply immense in scope, character development, historical reconstruction, poetic sensibility, human empathy. I consider it a sort of secular Bible for the creative writer. It belongs to another era but it still speaks to us, to all fundamental weaknesses and strengths as human beings.” Which book am I talking about? You can discover it by reading my interview with the “well-seasoned librarian” Dean Jones, originally published in his ongoing series on Medium, the platform with 120 million curious readers.
Read the interview originally published on Medium here (with pictures) or here below:
Name: Arianna Dagnino
Author of: “The Afrikaner. A Novel” (Guernica Editions, Toronto, 2019); “Jesus Christ Cyberstar” (Ipoc, 2009); “Transcultural Writers and Novels in the Age of Global Mobility” (Purdue University Press, 2015)
Can you tell me about your latest book “The Afrikaner”?
In a nutshell, The Afrikaner is an on-the-road tale set in newly post-apartheid South Africa and in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia that covers the terrains of race, love, historical guilt, and the tensions of a society “lost in transition.” The book is inspired by the five years (1996–2000) I spent in the southern African region as an international reporter for the Italian press.
The main character, Zoe du Plassis, 33, is a young female scientist (paleontologist) of Afrikaner descent. A conflicted woman struggling with group guilt and a dark family secret, after a fatal accident Zoe embarks on a field expedition into the hot plains of the Kalahari Desert in search of early human fossils. Her journey of atonement and self-discovery will lead her to memorable encounters with a troubled writer, a Bushman shaman, and a Border War veteran.
In reviewing the book for BC Book World, Alan Twigg wrote: “Art must be cathartic, original and memorable… North Americans have gleaned a deeper awareness of South Africa through Alan Paton’s ‘Cry the Beloved Country,’ Sir Laurens Jan van der Post, Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee. We’ve also seen ‘Invictus’ or ‘A Dry White Season’ or Richard Attenborough’s ‘Cry Freedom’ about Stephen Biko, the man that Nelson Mandela described as ‘the spark that lit a veld fire across South Africa.’ ‘The Afrikaner’ deserves its place in that pantheon.”
List of a few books you are currently reading?
Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of my lives; Jared Diamond’s Upheaval: turning points for nations in crisisand then a series of less renown but interesting writers (I like to discover new stuff beyond what big publishing houses are keen to promote with their powerful marketing machines): Richard Goodship’s The Camera Guy, Yigal Zur’sDeath in Shangri-La, Geoffrey Fox’s A Gift for the Sultan, Anca Cristofovici, Stela. Since I am working on the film script of my novel The Afrikaner, I am also reading Laura Brennan’s The Screening Room: Turning a Novel into a Screenplay and Ken Dancyger’s and Jeff Rush’s Alternative Scriptwriting.
What is one book you have read more than once?
Tolstoy’s War and Peace
Why? (If applicable). It’s simply immense in scope, character development, historical reconstruction, poetic sensibility, human empathy. I consider it a sort of secular Bible for the creative writer. It belongs to another era but it still speaks to us, to all fundamental weaknesses and strengths as human beings.
Do you have a “Guilty Secret” book that you have been reading for some time but have never finished?
I have so many of them! Just to mention a couple: Proust’s À la recherche, Joyce’s Ulysses, and Don de Lillo’s Underworld.
What was your favorite book as a child?
In different stages of childhood: Mary Walcott’s Little Women (Joe! Oh Joe!), Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Zane Grey’s The Call of the Canyon. One can tell I belong to an “ancient” generation of writers…
Which writer do you most admire? Why?
J.M. Coetzee: Because I will never be able to write as he does: so neatly, so sparingly. All those perfectly-constructed, crystalline sentences — saying so much with so little.
Do you have a book that you have considered a “Life changer”?
Three books, actually (for three different reasons): Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Primo Levi’s If This is a Man, and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
Have you ever read a famous book that you consider to be “Over Rated”? If so, which book and why?
Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Tedious, navel-gazing, dull characters — a story that never picks up. The writing is damn good, no doubt. But what’s the real purpose of all this aesthetic effort and all those hours of dedicated reading? To me it’s just a waste of time on both sides: the author’s and the reader’s. After this book I doubt I would ever want to read anything else written by Franzen.
If you could invite up to 10 authors living or dead to dinner, who would you invite and what would you serve?
All dead writers: I find them more fascinating than the living bunch.
Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Zelda Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Robert M. Pirsig, Toni Morrison, Paul Bowles, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Truman Capote. I would serve a hearty Italian meal and good red wine to ease/spark the conversation.
Any advice for aspiring writers?/Artists
Anything goes. Find/make your own rules in order to get into that sacred space of creative imagination. And once you are in there, stick to it as much as you can, blocking out any possible distractions. Thus: forget about FB, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and all that time-wasting social media stuff. Go off the grid, head into the woods, or live by an ocean. Become a recluse, lead a monastic life, find your cave, or throw yourself into the thick shrubs of urban life. But live: live harshly, widely, intensely. Talk to people: real people (not digital avatars or celebrities). Travel. Love. Suffer. And write, write, write, whenever you can, wherever you are. Live in your characters’ heads. Talk to them, talk like they would do. Hate them, love them, suffer with them, for them. And then deliver. Never leave a page, a chapter, a manuscript unfinished. And then start editing, rewriting, editing — until exhaustion, until you have no regrets. Until you will be able — and have the right — to say: “I did my best. Let’s see what you think of my work”.
About Arianna Dagnino:
In her career as an international reporter, literary translator and academic researcher, Arianna Dagnino has lived in many countries, including a five-year stint in South Africa. The author of several books on the impact of global mobility, science, and new technologies, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of South Australia and currently teaches at the University of British Columbia. Her latest novel, “The Afrikaner” (Guernica, Toronto, 2019) is an on-the-road adventure story that covers the terrains of race, love, white guilt, science, shamanism, and cultural survival.
“The Afrikaner”: Blog
YouTube Book trailer of “The Afrikaner”:
The Afrikaner: Book review 1:
The Afrikaner Book review 2:
Interview: “Writer Heads to South Africa for new Novel.”
Read the interview on Medium here: https://medium.com/authors-what-are-you-reading/what-are-you-reading-right-now-with-arianna-dagnino-75bd82bbb052