Argentine Jewish writer Sergio Chejfec was in Mumbai for a literature festival. Manasi Y Mastakar engages in a bookish tete-a-tete with the him
Argentine Jewish writer Sergio Chejfec, born in Buenos Aires has several novels, essays and poetry to his credit and has been, on several occasions has been compared to one of the most important Argentinian writers, Juan José Saer, which he finds flattering but not accurate. Chejfec’s novels usually feature a slow-paced narration that interweaves a minimal plot with reflection. Memory, political violence, and Jewish-Argentine culture and history are some of the recurring themes in his work. Excerpts from the interview:
You recently spoke about ‘books that made me a writer’ during a panel discussion at a literature fest. Please tell us a little more of your inspirations.
The inspirations that I find in the books do not come from their stories or their meaning. Above all they come from small situations that are present which I feel are propitious to take, as a tribute.
Which is your favourite book? Why?
I do not have a favorite book, but I do have some favourite stories of Franz Kafka or Jorge Luis Borges. Why? Because whenever I go back to them I find a different and a new meaning to them. They are stories that teach me to read every time.
Will you recommend it to our readers? Why?
For the exact same reasons. I find that they are reading machines that encourage us to read other books.
Another panel discussion was on ‘reading like a writer’. How would you explain this to our readers? What does it mean: reading like a writer?
To read as a writer may seem an adversarial process, because it is expected that a reader must be already quite disappointed, because of his experience. But it has its coherence. The only innocence that sustains a writer is his innocence as a reader. I speak of innocence as an ability to wonder and discover what is new and different.
As a writer, how do you approach a book by other writers? What do you look for?
I approach with a lot of curiosity. I try to see them as stories that are addressed to me.
Have you read any Indian authors? Who do you like the most? Why?
Unfortunately, I do not know many Indian authors. But a while ago I had the opportunity to read a popular novel by Sankar titled ‘Chowringhee’, and I was impressed by the combination of history, characters and social geography that his book manifests. I imagine that it must have been one of the best representations of the urban past of one of the most important Indian cities.
Your novels are slow-paced with a reflection on society. You write about politics and Jewish-Argentina culture with added flavour of history. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I do not consider myself a Jewish writer, although I have Jewish roots. Only sometimes Jewish issues or topics appear in my work. I would say that my main source of inspiration are phrases that I read or listen to. From them I create situations. And from the situations, stories are made, either novels or shorter narrations.
Do real-life situations find a place in your fictional tales?
My day to day life intervenes in my fiction, more than I am aware of. But not in a direct way. One is always negotiating with their day to day life either in favour or against it. The inclusion of those in the stories is the product of that process, not a transcription of experiences.